Monday, November 29, 2010

Honoring Grief

I met with my grief counselor yesterday for the last time. She is retiring next month and I have a toolbox full of goodies and insight to spirit me on my way. I've been seeing her regularly now for the last seven months after some prompting from a friend, when I realized that I really wasn't sure how to navigate the waters of grief after my father's suicide in October 2009.

Grief is a tricky thing and it can send you into a tailspin of raw experience, confusion and turbulent emotion. A grieving person has had their life forever altered. A loved one is gone, perhaps suddenly, perhaps after a long battle with an illness. In any case, it can be debilitating and there is no determined length for the adjustment process; it can take years, if not a lifetime to integrate the loss, to spin your way around the grief cycle.

Our culture and society do not seem to allow room for grievers or for grief even though grief is a process that is experienced within a social context. There are no requisite number of days to wear black. There isn't much time to process before returning to life as usual. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last American president to wear a black arm band when his mother Sara passed away. In our culture today, aside from the funeral, most rituals of wailing, head shaving, and wearing certain clothing are gone.

How on earth then, is anyone supposed to know that we might need more time? Extra care and support? Understanding and empathy?

A person with a cast on their arm has an obvious injury that society allows for, as a person in the hospital with an illness has a physical manifestation of the fact that she may need more support and care. It is not so with grief.

Grief can be lonely and silent. When the tidal waves of emotion wash over you, it can leave you feeling rudderless and crazy, uncertain and fragile. The waves can come out of nowhere at any time, they don't care about appropriateness or timing, they have their own schedule.

Grief is a sensitive time. I can liken it to being turned inside out, like a fish that has come up from the depths of the deepest darkest ocean, too far and too fast. Resisting the pull, the tearing, the scream, only serves to prolong the process and make it worse. Surrender is the only option.

I am here to tell you that despite the pulling, tearing and screaming, there is hope. There is hope and creativity and insight. Hope can be found in accepting the process, in seeking a solid support system, in honoring your grief; for it is yours and yours alone and it cannot belong to anyone else. In fact, an important factor in the resolution of grief is social support from others. The bereaved need support, not only for the reality of the loss, but for the validity of their grief, and of themselves as legitimate grievers.

So how can we honor our own grief you might ask? By expressing it and accepting it without fear. By learning to understand our own way of processing the grief. By rooting ourselves in things that nourish and comfort our wounded souls. By not being afraid to cry and wail and shake. Perhaps even by wearing a physical symbol of grief to let the world know that you are going through something critical, important, valuable and sacred that will ultimately change who you are as a person, if you will allow it.

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~Kenji Miyazawa

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Like a Rock Tumbler

It is amazing how one seemingly innocuous action can set into motion a myriad of intermingling inner experiences, all going off in succession like fire works.

We've all been there. Mistakes, errors, situations beyond our control (aren't they all?), ducking and covering until the storm passes only to stand up and dust ourselves off to find out that we were actually the one who pushed the red button.

This is difficult to admit; the choices we make and the responsibility we have for them-especially when things don't work out the way we would like, when we complain and gossip, suppress and refute, turning accountability outward.

Choice and consciousness. Cause and effect.

Choice and consciousness are the great rock tumbler of the Universe. When the Universe shakes out the stones that burden it, consciousness catches them and spins them, knocking them into each other; grating, breaking, polishing, shining, healing.

If we can be present to this process and admit our culpability, we then have the power to make a different choice, to cultivate inner awareness.

However, if we remain unconscious to this process, we keep getting tumbled, experiencing the same situations and results over and over and over again, ad infinitum.

Mistakes and awareness of choice are opportunities to become more competent at living this life.

What would you have to change if you told yourself the truth about your choices?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sit Your Tongue Down

My friend Kiki and I were sharing wine the other night and I was complaining about my jaw pain. I was telling her that I've been to chiropractors that tell me they cannot "fix" me (one even recommended I see someone about negative thinking), to massage therapists who try to work out the kinks and have also had a splint made to wear while I'm sleeping which has led me to fantasize about becoming a boxer or perhaps a Harbor City Roller Dame.

While all of these methods are helpful and even healing, they have not gotten to the root of the problem: that I am responsible for the thoughts and the tension that are lodged in my cells and muscles. As a yoga instructor I intellectually know this to be true, however, that does not mean that it is always easy for me to accept when I am in pain and want to be FIXED in the short term rather than take the longer road to healing my mind.

Well, thank god for Kiki.

As I explained my predicament, she said quite bluntly, "Sit your tongue down."

I looked at her perplexed, "What?"

"Sit your tongue down," she replied, "you know, relax it in your mouth, let it settle."

I tried what she suggested and at that precise moment, Cherubs and Seraphim began to sing as the ceiling at Zeitgeist Cafe opened and white light began to shine down on my smiling face.

I had not realized until that very moment that I often have tension in my tongue and press it on the roof of my mouth. I felt how this made my jaw tense and in turn, my neck and shoulders creating a menagerie of dysfunction.

All this time I had been seeking answers outside of myself. In fact, I had been convinced that if only I had my back adjusted regularly, wore my splint religiously and used massage as maintenance I would feel like a million bucks. Turns out, not so.

Turns out, sitting my tongue down consciously throughout the day has far outweighed any of the other things I have tried. Perhaps it is also because it brings me into awareness of the present moment and how I am sitting-lying-standing-breathing-holding my body-tongue-neck-shoulders.

That being said, try it. Go on, right now, just try it. Sit your tongue down.

Thank you Kiki, I am so happy you didn't get sucked down the toilet in India.