I am frequently asked about what yoga studios and classes are good. I find this a difficult question to answer because there are so many variables at play. Especially after the death of a loved one.
There are as many styles of yoga as there are teachers. Not only is each class a different intensity level, but also each teacher adds their own unique flare, communicating their own personal interpretation of how yoga has been felt or expressed their bodies, to the class.
I encourage students to find a teacher that they like. One that they “buy into.” Who’s teaching resonates. I believe there has to be a sliver of common ground, where the life experience, and the experience of yoga as the teacher has interpreted it, meets the student’s. This helps to make a yoga practice feel possible – this is something I can do - and fosters a sense of trust and safety. From this place, a teacher will challenge his/her students, but the pre-requisite for all good learning, and in this case, good mourning, is safety.
In my past life, I was a competitive mountain bike racer. Living in Edmonton, my off-season (winter) was months long. So, I took up yoga. I practiced physically challenging styles of yoga – Ashtanga and vinyasa – because I wanted to improve my physical conditioning by strengthening and stretching. These classes “met me where I was at.” They met my physical needs and my mental expectations about what I wanted my yoga to be.
After Cam died, I continued with this intense style of yoga. In the first few months it helped to balance me – I was anxious, restless and confused. It took the edge off. Still in shock, my old routine was comforting. It was something my body was good at and could do. It was something I had control of, as every other area of my life spun out of control.
As the shock wore off and I realized anew that Cam died, grief punched me in the stomach and left me on my knees. As the reality of my situation set in, I became increasingly fatigued. I didn’t have the physical energy to get out of bed, never mind a 90-minute power yoga class. I was emotional and labile. I’d burst into tears mid pose, and spend all of savasana fighting back sobs.
I wasn’t buying into, or comforted by the teachings the various teachers provided. They felt cliché: I wanted to scream, “Everything doesn’t happen for a reason,” and “Fuck positive affirmations!” None of it felt applicable to my life, and in fact, it made me feel shameful for not measuring up to par.
I felt out of place. I didn’t feel safe. Those classes were no longer a good fit for me.
I found an exceedingly gentle yoga class taught by a woman, Beth, the basement of her house. For two hours every Wednesday, we would gather. In those two hours, we would do three poses, using cushions, blocks and bolsters for support and comfort. We spent oodles of time breathing, and learning meditation.
These classes were challenging in a different way. They met me where I was at - terrified, confused and raw. The slow gentle postures allowed me to feel my body, and my emotions, which was possible because I felt safe there – as safe as I could feel with raw grief coursing through my veins. In any case, I wasn’t the only once crying in Beth’s class.
If you live in a major city, the breadth and choice of yoga classes can be over-whelming. If you’ve never done yoga before, I would suggest starting gentle, so you can learn the basics, and have an affirming experience. From there, find a teacher that you like. Try a few until you find a good fit.
Everyone’s grief experience is so individual, and everyone comes to yoga a various points in their life. If you remember to find a class to “meet you where you’re at,” you’ll find something that reflects your needs in the moment. Remember, it’s OK to experiment and change your mind…life isn’t constant: sometimes you’ll need the intensity; sometimes you’ll need the quiet. The choice is yours and the options are out there.
A good companion for grief is the book “Understanding Your Grief” by Alan Wolfelt. Although it's not a yoga book, much of Wolfelt's philosophy is very yogic, and I found it a helpful resource to blend what I was learning about grief in my life, into my yoga practice. For this book, and more recommendations, check out my bookstore.
I recently started reading a book called Full Body Presence by Suzanne Scurlock-Durana. The first chapter had me hooked.
In those first few pages she wrote of something that I have known on some level, but seeing it in print made it so much more tangible.
She describes many instances when we don't trust our internal awareness - for example, feeling intense grief over a dear friend moving away but being told by people around you that your grief was not important, and shameful..."Why are you worried about it? You have many other friends, right?" Or having a creepy reaction to someone in your life and being told to stop being so silly and jumping to conclusions.
"In all these examples, your body was telling you something important, but those around you tried to convince you that what you were sensing wasn't real or valid" (page 9).
It was this lack of trust of our inner and deepest self that struck a chord within me.
She further describes how a lack of trust of our inner worlds leads us to looking for external sources to shape, define, solve, remedy our lives.
Take grief for example.
Our grief slows us down physically and mentally. We feel tired, lethargic, numb, confused, disorientated, lost and sometimes even crazy. Our emotions are all over the map. We feel so different, our lives feel foreign. We wish we could go back in time and never let go of the past.
The worst part is this: In the throngs of grief you don't know what to do. You've never lived like this before. If you don't know, and don't trust what you feel inside, you look outside yourself for the answers.
You look to a society that pushes speed, rewards efficient solutions, reveres stoicism, and demands productivity. We, as a society, don't do well with stillness, solitude, loneliness, pain, and hurt.
So here we are.
"Keep really busy," they advise.
"Don't cry. She wouldn't want you to be sad," they scold.
"You need to get back to how you were before he died," they push.
"Don't live in the past," they warn.
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself," they say.
"Quit playing the victim."
Need I go on?
We are taught to not trust our grief.
Intuiting the message, reading between the lines, understanding the subtext, we hear this:
"Whatever grief-striken energy you feel inside you is wrong. You feel the wrong things. You think the wrong things. You are doing it wrong."
What I teach in Yoga for Grief Support is this:
"Whatever grief-stricken energy you feel inside you is something to pay attention to. There is wisdom there. Let's learn, together, how to touch those wounds with compassion."
If you feel it, it's real.
If you feel it, it's important.
If you feel it, you can heal it.
Be curious about it. What is it saying? What is it's message? What is it's deepest need?
What if you believed that your internal world is telling you something very important about how you need to heal and nurture your broken heart?
Imagine, just for a second that the grief within you can be trusted - even in it's painful.
I mean, you are hurt, afterall. Let's spend some time there.
Say to it, "I will take care of you."
This is what moving towards your pain is. You must move (gently and with no rewards for speed) towards (and through) your pain to heal.
Suzanne Scurlock-Durana writes that our bodies are "incredible navigational systems that inform us constantly, from our gut instincts to our heart's deepest yearnings" (page 5).
Let's shift our relationship to our instincts and our senses from one of mistrust and doubt to reliance, and connection.
I'd love to hear your feedback on this book if/as you read it.
Please feel free to post comments under this blog.
'And now we welcome the New Year, full of things that have never been' - Rainer Maria Rilke
Well, there goes 2013.
Another calendar page turned, another year is upon us.
The Rilke quote above is one of my favorite New Year's quotes. I love the truth and reminder that the coming year is "full of things that have never been."
This is one of the many harsh realities of grief - life has never been like it is now. Grief picks you up and plunks you down in a world that is changed, volatile, unfamiliar and painful; you have never lived your life without the person(s) that you have irrevocably lost. The grief you are experiencing now is a new and unknown experience for you.
And yet this, somehow, creates the space to heal grief. This mysterious unknown is the ground in which you can plant a healing intention.
The intention to heal grief is a positive commitment you make to yourself. A deliberate and personal responsibility to take action in your life that is self sustaining and supportive. A willingness to move gently towards your pain.
Perhaps this feels like an oxymoron - a positive intention that requires you to embrace pain? How can this be?
It is one of the many paradoxes of grief. Healing grief requires you to touch that which is painful. By moving towards your pain and your loss, you open yourself to how your loss has changed you. This changed, painful world is wildly unknown, and healing grief invites you to explore this mystery.
Grief invites you to live with questions that may not have answers, to experience emotions that seemingly arise out of nowhere, to live in a holding pattern - the life you knew before no longer exists, and the future has not yet come. This liminal space (this threshold, the betwixt and between), is fertile ground for healing. Setting a healing intention recognizes that there has to be a willingness to stay open to this state of not knowing. To embrace the darkness of grief and be touched by your loss and pain is how you begin to integrate you loss into your life. It is only by living the mystery that you will learn about the mystery.
An example of a healing intention may be:
"In this moment, I will stay open to my pain for it is both a testament to my love, and my teacher. I don't know what the next moment will bring, but I will embrace myself with compassion learn how to live with my new reality."
"I am willing to go into the unknown of my grief, I trust myself and my process."
To close, here is another quote by Rilke that speaks to the necessity to live through the mystery to find your way....
'Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.'
― Rainer Maria Rilke
Taking wisdom from the Cherokee culture today...this is a wonderful story about the importance of making space for ALL of your experiences; whether you perceive them as positive or negative. This rendition of the story I got from ServiceSpace's weekly email called InnerNet Weekly (February 5th 2013) and it's called "Beyond the Conflict of Inner Forces."
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
You might heard the story ends like this: The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
In the Cherokee world, however, the story ends this way:
The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right, they both win.” and the story goes on:
“You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and always fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities – tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking – that I have need of at times and that the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.
"You see, son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.
"How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”
Here is a moving rendition of Amazing Grace. It's the Cherokee version, done by Walela. Best experienced with the volume turned up, and headphones on.
From my heart to yours,
I can’t be the only person on this planet who has struggled with holding the pain of grief and “thanks-giving” at the same time.
Just today, I heard an ad on the radio outlining the things we should be grateful for. That one word, “should,” got my back up. Gratitude has become a buzz word, and I’ve often wondered how many people (myself included) really understand what gratitude is? In our busy distracted world I wonder if people really do feel and experience a deep sense of thankfulness and appreciation instead of just saying they do? Especially in the face of loss and grief.
Back in October 2006, I attended our annual family thanksgiving dinner fill with dread. All 40 of us circle around the room and state what we are thankful for. That year, I had nothing. Cam died 4 months prior, I was overcome by the largeness of my loss. As CS Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, about his wife’s death, “her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”
There was a lot I should have said, and even could have said, but I didn’t. I could have said, “I am grateful for my health,” but instead I agonized over, “Why wasn’t he healthy?” I could have said, “I’m thankful for having him in my life,” which simply reinforced how much I lost and how much I still wanted him in my life. I could have said, “I’m grateful for my family,” but the only person I was looking for in that crowded room was him.
Gratefulness felt trite. Empty. Impossible.
Earlier that October day I had been sitting outside in the fall sunshine. I closed my eyes and absorbed the warmth of the sun. I could smell the crispness of fall in the air. I heard the flap of a bird’s wings as it flew overhead and stared in awe at the mere fact I just heard a bird flying.
I felt something in those experiences. I absorbed, smelt, heard, and felt awe. But, I can’t say I took the time to appreciate them. And yet, looking back, these glimpses of experiences that were so small brought large amounts relief and reprieve.
Now I see that what I needed at the time was to not only understand the power of gratitude but to shift my expectations of it. To forget what the world thinks I SHOULD be grateful for and find things that move me to a natural state of deep appreciation and kindness…and beyond that, recognize that state as gratitude itself.
In wrestling with this over the years, I have learnt some valuable lessons about how to make gratitude a more accessible experience even in the face of grief.
1. Be flexible with your expectations around gratitude. Gratitude is malleable, and your perception of gratitude will change depending on life circumstances. There may be times in your life when your gratefulness spans life-times and relationships, and there may be other times when you are grateful to get through a moment. For example, when you are healthy, it’s easy to say, “I’m grateful for good health.” After a life threatening diagnosis, your expectation of gratitude may change to being grateful for good lab results, or a good report from a surgeon. Your benchmark of gratitude has shifted and this flexibility allows you to find gratitude despite challenging situations.
2. Slow down enough to notice the small things. Think of gratitude as a practice of mindfulness. On my daily dog walk I could go over projects, to do lists, mentally solve all my problems and do all my thinking, but instead of being “mind full” I try to be mindful. I try to get out of my head and into my body. I engage my senses and take the time to notice the beauty around me; to see the slanted light shining through a grove of trees or the red fall leaves against a bright blue sky, hear the crunch of snow under my boot on an otherwise silent morning, smell the pine tree as I walk under it, the relief and release I feel after in my chest and shoulders after a deep sigh. Instead of these small things going un-noticed, they become an intentional exercise in appreciation. Thich Nhat Hanh says, "People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child - our own two eyes. All is a miracle."
3. Let it sink in. Take the small things and the beautiful things, and make them big things. Be open to feeling the shift in perception when something sparks that fire of appreciation and relief within you. That spark is what we are grateful for – it’s a feeling, a visceral response that brings us much-needed reprieve…
4. Understand that gratefulness is not about denial of loss and grief. Alternatively, we become more aware of the fullness of life – the beauty and the pain. Holding both means full engagement of the heart, full compassion, full living. Zora Neale Hurston captured both profound life and profound gratitude when she said, “I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.”
This thanksgiving, take time to slow down, and notice the small things. Gratitude helps to build courage, resilience, feelings of connection and well-being and sometimes we have to be intentional about finding these moments and letting them grace us.
On the topic of Gratitude, I have found these sites invaluable:
Today, Sept 22 marks the Autumn Equinox. A time of year when the tilt of the earth is neither towards nor away from the sun. We experience this as having equal amounts of daylight hours, to nighttime hours. In fact, the name "equinox" is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night).
Equinox is literally a time of balance - the earth is balanced on its axis, and light/dark is balanced. It can also be viewed as a time to reflect upon the metaphorical balance within our lives. The key word being balance – a state of equilibrium, steadiness, stability, and harmony.
Taking a moment to reflect on your life, in what areas do you feel balanced? Unbalanced? In the realms of grief and suffering, do you feel able to compassionately find balance between the darkness and lightness of your experience?
In reflecting on the possibility of balancing the darkness and light of your life, it’s important to humbly remember that you can’t have one without the other. The depth of your grief (darkness) reflects the depth of your love (light). You wouldn’t see the light of the moon if the sky weren’t dark. You would never experience the bright warmth of a spring thaw, if you didn’t endure a cold dark winter. When you think back to a joyful memory of a loved one, you may laugh and then cry because both the joy and the pain are equally valuable representations of the effect of that person’s life on your own.
I’ve come to know that darkness is the chair on which light sits.
I remember the first time I felt “light” after Cam died. It was during a meditation and yoga retreat. We were doing a walking meditation, and I noticed an overwhelming sense of lightness and openness in my hips. I felt like I was floating, but at the same time so deeply connected to my body. I was completely entranced by this feeling of lightness – it felt new, different, and wonderful compared to the darkness that had overtaken my life for the previous 6 months. In those moments, the feeling of lightness and openness in my hips, morphed into such gratitude and wonder at the miracle of my body, and the depth of sensation. It was such a striking contrast to the heaviness and disconnection I had been feeling. I remember feeling both surprised and hopeful that there was joy buried beneath the layers of grief.
Despite this good feeling/bad feeling perception, I have learnt that healing grief requires movement towards your pain and suffering…which means an intentional willingness to embrace your pain and sit in darkness. Dark Night of The Soul stuff. That, however, doesn’t eliminate the opportunity for finding some light. Even if it’s just noticing the warmth of the sun on your back, watching a bird float on the breeze, eating a tart juicy raspberry. In fact, it’s those moments of mindfulness and awareness that can bring much reprieve and calm in the middle of a storm.
It was a wonderful lesson, feeling light in my walking meditation. For me, it has been a practice in “intentional attention,” because, for some reason, it seems that pain is more noticeable, and more easily remembered than feelings of contentment or ease or happiness. Simply making that observation has been instrumental in giving experiences that are light more focused attention. I’m more open to noticing it, and intentional about really experiencing it.
I believe that yoga and meditation are doorways into experiencing balance. You develop physical, muscular and postural balance. You learn ways to bring lightness and openness to the body – through movement and breath. You develop equanimity towards your emotions and thoughts by experiencing their flow, and their impermance. Perhaps most importantly, you are invited to slow down enough to notice it all.
The equinox is the perfect time to reflect on balance in your life. In Autumn, it’s an opportunity to look backward to reflect on the fullness and abundance of your harvest; and look ahead into the next season of fading sunlight and increasing darkness and contemplating what that means in your life as well.
Why is this important? Because when we are in a state of balance we are stronger, steadier and more able to find resilience within ourselves. And I think everyone would agree, feeling good feels good. Part of loving yourself, is giving yourself permission to do just that!
Make space to hold both.
Be courageous, care for others, a hero lives in you.
- Allison Crowther -
I went to our city's 9/11 Memorial Service and Fire Fighters Memorial today. One of the first speakers to speak, made a point that has stood out for the rest of my day and has impacted my perspective immensly. She said, for as much tragedy that there is in this world there is as much help, heros, love and support.
It's obvious, we live in a world where fear, tragedy and loss is all to prevalent and common. You can't watch the news without hearing something devastating. It's easy to get wrapped up, and immobilized in the fear and heart- break of it all.
Seeing all the Fire Fighters at the memorial - both on duty, off duty and retired, was a timely reminder that there are heros in our midst, all the time! There are people who put their lives on the line to save others. There are people who hold hands in solidarity. People who pray. People who hug. People who love. People who protect. People who are in service to others out of altruism and compassion. There is goodness. There is light. There is hope.
It was beautiful and heart warming how members of the Fire Service, families and friends came out today to recognize all those who have lost their lives. All the brothers and sisters who give so much of themselves, for the well being of others.
Time was taken to remember the lives of all Edmonton Fire Department members who have died in the line of duty - their names were called and a bell rung in their honour. All members who have died in the past year - their families were presented with a flag and again, a bell was rung in their honour.
It was such a wonderful visusal to have row after row of Fire Fighters, in their Dress Uniforms marching in formation and standing behind and standing for their comrades, and families who were receiving recognition today.
We remembered 9/11 and all the lives lost. We remembered the 19 Fire Fighters who were killed in Arizona this summer. We remembered. By remembering we honour.
Re-member. We re-organize. We re-live. We re-member ourselves as communities. As families. As co-workers. When we remember, we re-member ourselves and others.
The whole ceremony was so touching. The music of the bag-pipes and drums moved me to tears. Just like it's supposed to - music moves us from our heads to our hearts, from thinking to feeling. The formality of the Fire Fighters in formation was both humbling and awe inspiriing. Seeing the active duty crews and retirees show up and be present was a show of solidarity, and support for one and for all.
I left feeling sad for all the lives lost and acknowleged and remembered. I also felt hopeful. Hopeful that as long as communities such as these come together each year to remember and honour those lives lost through ceremony and ritual, the lives of those whose death affected will be so much more supported and rich as a result. Hopeful that these honouring traditions will take root in more areas of our communities and even families. Hopeful that love can be spread from person to person, city to city, country to country in showing of support in grief and loss.
Something very important is happening.
Anyone who ever has lost someone, or who will lose someone has to know.
That's everyone. That's me, and you and someone you know.
There are changes coming to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Which, to make a long story short, will make it easier for people who are grieving to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Basically, if you are experiencing symptoms such as sadness, altered sleep patterns and changes in appetite, for longer than two weeks (2 WEEKS?!) after the death of a loved one, you meet the criteria for depression.
2 weeks? Are we human? Or are we robots?
I recognize that the above description is over-simplified. I recognize that in some cases, people who are grieving can, and are, diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication. I also HOPE with every fiber of my being that the decision to do so is made by a clinician who has a firm grounding and understanding in what it means as a human being to experience and live through loss as a natural and normal part of life, and NOT a pathology that can be SOLVED by medication. In some cases I'm sure medication can help, but to have a 2 week limit on a human experience like grief is scary and irresponsible, in my humble opinion.
Six months after Cam's sudden and tragic death a medical professional asked me if I had a good Christmas.
I didn't. It was horrible. It was excruciating. It was hell for me and for his family.
Christmas wasn't a celebration that year. Nor the next. Nor the one after that, if the truth be known.
Next comment made (without further conversation or acknowledgment of my reality):
"You sound depressed, you need medication."
Actually, what I needed was someone to acknowledge that feeling sad after the death of my loved one was normal. That feeling a loss of joy and lightness is a natural response to devastation. That the symptoms of grief are a wise and organic response to the fact that I had something that I loved be taken from me. That not feeling like celebrating Christmas 6 months after his death was completely congruent with my life experience and that what I needed was people to sit with me there in darkness, not fix the unfixable.
Heart to heart, another human being should understand that grief is painful, messy and life changing. AND, that it is OK...more than OK, it's part of healing a grieving heart.
A hug would have been nice as well.
Ted Gup has this to say, in an article written in the NY Times called Diagnosis: Human
"I fear that being human is itself fast becoming a condition. It’s as if we are trying to contain grief, and the absolute pain of a loss like mine. We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with the messiness of our own humanity, aging and, ultimately, mortality.
Challenge and hardship have become pathologized and monetized. Instead of enhancing our coping skills, we undermine them and seek shortcuts where there are none, eroding the resilience upon which each of us, at some point in our lives, must rely. Diagnosing grief as a part of depression runs the very real risk of delegitimizing that which is most human — the bonds of our love and attachment to one another. The new entry in the D.S.M. cannot tame grief by giving it a name or a subsection, nor render it less frightening or more manageable.
The D.S.M. would do well to recognize that a broken heart is not a medical condition, and that medication is ill-suited to repair some tears. Time does not heal all wounds, closure is a fiction, and so too is the notion that God never asks of us more than we can bear. Enduring the unbearable is sometimes exactly what life asks of us.
But there is a sweetness even to the intensity of this pain I feel. It is the thing that holds me still to my son. And yes, there is a balm even in the pain. I shall let it go when it is time, without reference to the D.S.M., and without the aid of a pill."
Well said Ted.
I feel SO passionate about being a voice speaking out for and standing up for being human. For compassion, understanding, and vulnerability in all our hurts, griefs and frailty. As Mother Teresa said, "I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
Let's love, people.
Of course, this is only MY opinion.
I invite you to listen to a podcast done by the BBC called Medicalising Grief. It is only available for 4 more days, so please listen soon. It is a well done, and well rounded look at the issues around the changes coming to the DSM-V and what it mean to stakeholders (drug companies...yes, interesting indeed), clinicians, you and me.
If you love someone. If you've lost someone. If you will lose someone - please listen.
Knowledge is power. Inform yourself now, so when the inevitable happens you can direct your own care and be informed about who you let into your grief to help you make decisions about your care.
As I wrote in Mindful Mind - we spend much of our mental time and energy trying to avoid or prevent pain and suffering. When it comes to our emotions however, we have to feel it to heal it. This is where the practice of mindfulness comes in.
Being mindful of our emotions can be extremely challenging because it can be counter intuitive to 'lean into' our pain. However, as Helen Keller said, "The only way to the other side is through," and this is true in grief - we must move to the heart of our pain to heal.
It's helpful to understand the interplay between the mind and our emotions. Often, our experience of emotion is either triggered by a thought, or triggers a thought. A problem can arise when a feeling gets linked with a thought loop in the mind, which plays over and over again. When we think about a feeling we over identify with it, and get caught up in the story and become swept away by it. Being mindful is a more balanced approach of recognizing the feeling, being aware of how it feels in your body, and watching it transform and move through you. There is no need to explain it, change it or make it go away. Simply be with it, and connect with it as it is experienced in the body. For example, you may feel tension creeping into your shoulders, emptiness or queasiness in the stomach or a lump in your throat with tears in the eyes. This is how the emotions shows up in the body.
Emotion actually comes from the latin root, with means "with movement." When we practice mindfulness we give our emotions space freedom and time to move through us. Emotions and feelings are meant to be felt. Being mindful reveals a natural rhythm to them, a natural ebb and flow. Periods of intensity followed by periods of reprieve - where everything is in a constant state of motion...a fluidity. This natural rhythm is how we dose ourselves with pain - sinking into the intensity at times and at other times moving way from it and resting. Tuning into this rhythm and honouring it is powerful self care. By understanding and experiencing that all emotions have movement and come to pass, we build trust in our ability to be resilient in the face of emotional suffering.
One of the most powerful and supportive mantra's I have found for myself is "This too shall pass," which is reflected in this thought provoking quote by Neil Jordan:
"I hoped that grief was similar to the other emotions. That it would end, the way happiness did. Or laughter."
Our minds are what make us human....well that, and opposable thumbs. We use our minds to understand, remember, plan, rationalize, organize and logic-ize (and make up words). We use all these functions (and more) to solve our problems...and if we look at even the root of that - to avoid pain and to feel good. In our minds we rationalize and think, "_______ happened and I don't like it. How can I stop _______ to feel ______." In this process we develop habitual responses, automatic reactions and filter everything through the lenses from behind which we see the world. Our thoughts and our perceptions join forces. Overtime and with "practice" our thoughts become our beliefs.
Our society and culture focuses strongly on our minds and the power of our minds. We tend to believe that if we think it, it must be true....and if we want to be "better" we have to think more. I believe this creates a dichotomy where we believe the mind has ALL the answers. We become disjointed from the rest of our bodies and the wisdom that lies in us, beyond the mind - the wisdom of our bodies, our intuitions, our emotions.
When we slow down and become mindful we take a step back from our habitual experience to gain perspective. Being mindful of the mind, we simply view our thoughts from a distance - from a witness perspective. We don't try to stop our thoughts, or empty our mind. On the contrary, we are deeply aware of the content of our thinking - yet we don't become enmeshed in it, we don't get carried away by it. We watch the activity of the mind from a curious, non-judgemental, witnessing perspective - we develop mindfulness around the true nature of the mind and the nature of our thoughts. We see the bigger picture of our minds. We begin to notice what thoughts may (or may not) serve our greater personal good. We may begin to realize thought patterns that dominate our experience (for example, anxious thoughts and worries) or perhaps you notice just how unaware you have been as to the content of the thoughts that dominate the internal world of your mind.
In any case, being mindful of the mind is a very dynamic and engaged process. It takes concentration and awareness, compassion and a lack of judgement. It also takes patience - understanding that we never arrive at a mind that is empty and serene. We arrive with an awareness that we can create space in our minds to notice and to choose our thoughts, reactions and even beliefs.
Taking the Victor Frankl quote one layer deeper, and understanding it as it applies to the nature of the mind: "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
Create space for your own freedom.
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