On Grief

Recently a member of my family passed away. It wasn’t sudden or unexpected. I had imagined and projected myself into the future to examine how it would be without this person in my life a million times. But in the end I was still completely unprepared when the moment came.

My personal experience of this passing didn’t have anger or fear attached to it– just a tremendous sadness, along with the understanding that this person who lived in joy and love and song was no longer around making the world a better place.

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about how we physically manifest emotions like grief, sadness, anger, and fear. These feelings don’t just live in our heads and our hearts; they live in our bodies. At the funeral I looked across the room at all the people who had come to bear witness to the passing of someone who had touched their lives, I noticed the heaviness, the downward pull, a curling in, an armoring.

It’s no coincidence that many of the sayings we use to describe emotion are grounded in the physical world.

“He really lights up the room”
“She’s looking very down today”
“Why the long face?“
“The weight of the world is on my shoulders.”

Our physical experiences are grounded in our thoughts and emotions. It’s what is referred to as “mind-body unity”. When you think about it, you never experience a thought and/or emotion without some physical watermark. I know that simply pulling up my laundry list of things that need to get done today can make me subtly hold my breath. Remembering I have yummy leftovers for lunch makes my stomach rumble. In trying to recall an old co-workers email, my eyes pull into a squint.

Here’s an activity to play with today. Whenever you can remember to, take ten seconds to pause. Take notice of the thoughts you are having and see if you can observe how they are manifesting in you physically. Just this simple moment of awareness can be enough to help you release a clenched jaw or tight shoulder, bring you out of a slump or release out of an armored stance.

I’m back to my regular routine and back (mostly) to feeling myself. But then every once in awhile I see something that person would have thought funny, or I remember something I forgot to tell them, and what I assume to be grief barrels down on me all over again. Everything stops. Collapsed and down I go.

In those terrible moments when you are forced to live in emotional upheaval, or those days when life brings you the extraordinary situations that push you to rethink everything, see if you can stop and give yourself ten seconds of awareness. Don’t try to correct your posture or talk yourself out of how you are feeling. Just be where you are and notice. A little dose of the here-and-now can work miracles.