Notes from Growing Through Loss Series: What Do We Know About Grief and Bereavement?

Notes from Growing Through Loss Series: What Do We Know About Grief and Bereavement?

Last night was the first night of the “Growing Through Loss” support group series in Roseville, MN. The speaker, Ted Bowman, gave an overview of common misconceptions about grief:

a- That there is a right way to do it.
b- That there are predictable stages.
c- That there is closure.
d- That some people don’t grieve.

We all grieve. We all have some form of suffering in our lives, whether it is the loss of a physical capacity, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job. Life is not easy; we are all in some form of acceptance for working with our feelings and our lives.

We need to acknowledge our grief. While painful memories are difficult at times, they can help us come to terms with loss when we honor our grief process.

In my work with those in recovery, there is grief in letting go of addictive behavior and opening to life in a new way. Fear, sadness, anger and grief are feelings that we need to know. To find support for this process is a gift for our emotional health.

The group breaks out into a variety of specific small groups depending on death of a spouse, child, sibling or other issues. In this way, folks connect with those in similar circumstances and know they are not alone.

I’m grateful to be a part of the series and presenting on October 2nd, 2017. My talk will focus on being aware of the breath and the body, and how to find some openings in one’s grief process with breath awareness and body wisdom.

Reading With Insight

Reading With Insight

Recently, I have been reflecting on the process I go through when picking up a book, reading it, and deciding if I will finish it. When I pick up a book, I want it to be helpful. After all, we have only a limited amount of time in this human life. So, when my hand reaches for a book, and I begin turning the first pages, reading the table of contents perhaps, or perusing the first few pages, I will ask myself: Why did I pick this book? What am I looking for?

Then, as I read a bit further, I will ask myself: What was it about this particular book that drew me to into it? What do I like about this author’s style of writing? What is happening with me as I read this book? I often pause and reflect after a page or two. I reflect on these questions throughout the reading experience, which probably makes me a slow reader, but I savor the experience.

I get most of my books from the library. Often, after having finished a book, as I am flipping through it before preparing to return it to the library, it comes to me. I will remember, Oh! That’s why I needed that book! I needed to be reminded of that! The insight arises, and I want to kiss the book and thank it for it beautiful existence because I am reminded of something very inclusive about being in the world.

For example, I recently picked up Daily Rituals by Mason Curry. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it or not, but saw that it was a small book; contained very short stories about different artist’s habits. That being the case, it felt convenient to pick it up and read a few pages about Twain or Beethoven or Dickinson, etc. I felt irritated that the majority of the artists in the book were male, but then, I sighed, took a deep breath and kept reading it for a few weeks from time to time.

I also wondered: Could reading this be a way to avoid my writing process? But, I decided that reading was also part of writing. After I digested the book, I pressed the book into my hands, felt the cover, and flipped the pages back and forth. I asked myself again: Why did I pick this book? What was it about this book that drew me into it? What was I looking for? What did I like about this author’s style of writing? What happened within me as I read this book? Why did I spend valuable time reading these stories? Then, this insight suddenly arose:

Everybody is channeling.

Every sentient being is constantly channeling energy with their energetic field while additional fields of energy affect them along with much that cannot be named or seen. Writers and artists are not anything special. It appears that the only difference is that they consciously work to channel their energy into a certain form. And, from what I read, many suffered in that process, just like all of us. We suffer. We learn. And when we learn, we find release. And, it is a process of allowing consciousness into the process of learning, unlearning and meeting our suffering.

I am constantly attentive to being aware of how energy is channeled within my body. To bring energy into a written form can seem very hard to me. Why? Because there was a belief that “writers” have some special skill.

Yet, here I am writing these words. Whatever is needed is already happening as I write this piece. Channeling is happening all the time anyway. I can steer the channel toward writing more often and let it become part of my stream of consciousness. My process may be painful at times, even though I do not want to cause harm. At other times, it may feel pleasurable or neutral. It is unpredictable because it is about being open.

Gratefully, there is learning, reflecting, and release.

Staying Present with Grief

Staying Present with Grief

One of the core practices of my work is simply sitting and noticing. The idea behind this is to pay attention to the changing qualities within the mind and body, to see that they are ever flowing through us. In this practice, I pay special attention to the thoughts and desires that want to control this natural process. The example I want to write about today concerns the feelings of grief related to a loss that can arise throughout our life. I have been blessed to work with many people around this issue, as I have worked with it myself for many years.

Recently I was going through some books from my early studies on working with grief, and I began reflecting on the persisting cultural beliefs about loss and the grieving process. Many of us are taught that grief follows a specific path before vanishing from our life like smoke. When we lose someone, we might be given space for a time, but eventually we may be guided towards a sense of closure. In fact, we might even have a desire to be over it ourselves, which might then lead to the arising of guilt and shame. I was deeply touched by the story Patrick O’Malley told in his 2015 Op-Ed for the New York Times, in which he described a client named Mary. Having spent six months of despairing the loss of her child to infant death syndrome, as Patrick writes, “she had diagnosed her condition as being ‘stuck’ in grief, believing that a stubborn depression was preventing her from achieving acceptance and closure.” But Patrick offers a different perspective, as he writes, “I suggested to Mary that there was nothing wrong with her… She was just very sad, consumed by sorrow, but not because she was grieving incorrectly. The depth of her sadness was simply a measure of the love she had for her daughter.” By believing that she needed “closure,” she was attempting to control the natural process within herself that was calling out with sorrow.

There is another way. It is important to remember that we each have our own style and way of working with loss. Some of us are more intellectual, some have a more emotional center, and some are more kinesthetic and action or movement oriented. I find that we need to balance our way of working with the head, the heart and the entire body for inner peace while touching our inner pain.  If we are grieving, the feelings of anger, sadness, shock, overwhelm, or despair can come in different degrees and in different order. We may discover new ways of working with old grief that can provide insight and new forms of release.

Ultimately, this idea of closure is at odds with my teaching and practice because of the way it constricts the mind to only one way of being. My practice focuses just on what is present. I have worked with many people, including myself who have felt a shift come after some time. Sometimes you feel lighter after working through some grief and that can go on for any length of time, but we never know when the memory of that person meant so much to us or the loss can come back and hit us in a new way. So it’s important to work with just whatever is coming up without judgement.

I have found that grief is a natural part of life. When I know about how many species are becoming extinct each day, and see many people dying from various causes, learn about wars being waged, my heart aches for all sentient beings. When I acknowledge my sorrow and meet it with compassion, just pause and sit still for a bit, I feel this glimmering light that grows into love. I see how much love is available, a love so large that I cannot even hold it. It holds us all. And, in this process, with each breath, and each step, there is just this, whatever needs to be faced right now, with love.

Aware of Changing Needs

Aware of Changing Needs

A couple of thoughts that came up as part of my morning meditation. Right now, you may be experiencing some resistance to doing something that would be more beneficial for you. There are a variety of ways to work with resistance to change.

  1. Meet that part with loving kindness and try to understand what it is saying. It may be that a part of you feels threatened by making a change in your habits, and needs to be seen and heard.
  2. Resolve to put it down or rise above it. This is a way of not being violent, but firm. Say to your inner resistance: “I see you and I am not allowing you to rule my mind, my heart or my activities today.” An adult knowing of, “No, not this,” can grow with clarity. It can also help to remember someone who set a firm boundary with you and while you did not like it, you respected it.
  3. There is a third way which is a combination of the above two. Often this works the best. Find a way to be still and to listen to the feelings surrounding your resistance. Then, after you have compassionately let that in, resolve to stop participating in the thought pattern or behavior pattern that you would like to change and feel it in the exhale, in the present moment.
  4. A fourth way is to cultivate gratitude and joy for the breath in the body and for giving even a moment of attention to your inner process because it is already changing and truly wonderful!

There are many more ways, more that I can describe, open up to your own unique process!

Please share your way of being if you wish.

Warm wishes, Constance

Shifting “Me” to “We”

Shifting “Me” to “We”

In St. Paul, Minnesota the news estimated that 100,000 folks came together on January 21st, 2017 to march for human rights, equality, stopping bigotry, etc. It was an amazing sight and filled my heart with love for us all and for our planet. And, at the same time, I saw that what “we” have to do is enormous given the current governing body, it seemed almost overwhelming. I noticed a strong energy of “me” becoming exhausting as I stood with others.

As a way of working with my feelings, I scribbled some images on the back of an envelope I found. When I noticed that heavy sense of self, with breath awareness, I dropped it. I could breathe in knowing how we are all connected to a wise and living energy that can carry us all if we just continue to work together.

At the end of the day, that sense of “me” could rest on a sense of “we”. Within us, we are all the earth, the earth is us, and we will work together to protest oppression and injustice.

Let us transform fear into peaceful resistance, let our fire and anger turn into loving and strong solutions and skillful action together!