A vial containing our tears : reflections on grief and grieving

There is a beautiful psalm or bible passage that I cannot remember the reference to which says that God counts and collects each one of our tears.  In a culture which so often denigrates grief it is important for us to know that our sorrow is not unimportant or in vain.  The implication is so often that we need to ‘be over it’, not carry it forward or just make sure we don’t make others too uncomfortable around us, because it can be hard for those who have not dealt with or are familiar to a grieving process to understand how essential the shedding of tears is.

I watched a movie a few weeks ago about a painful loss called The Shack and in it Sam Worthington plays an adult child of an alcoholic and abusive Dad who ends up losing his youngest daughter to a violent crime.   The movie is about his quest to come to terms with the anger, pain, sadness and resentment he holds towards a God who he feels ‘has forsaken him’ in allowing such a terrible thing to happen.  He ends up being transported to a cottage where he lives for a time with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and in one scene the Asian singer/actress who plays the later part holds up a vial that is full of his tears.   

This image speaks to me of ‘holding’ and containment which are two things we can really struggle with if we are not surrounded by those who assist us and support us to grieve.   I know in my own life that after my father died and my partner abandoned me I went overseas with much unresolved grief.  I acted it out over the next 8 years of my active addiction and my recovery was a journey to find my way back to it in order to understand, feel and release it.  (I am not going to say to ‘heal’ it because in a sense I think its a central mistake of our culture that grief is an illness that need to be cured or fixed somehow.)  Its a sad indictment of our modern society that in past years there has been a move to have grief included as a mental illness in the bible of psychiatry The DSM.   

Grief that is unresolved can indeed make us mentally and emotionally unwell.  To my mind it can be the huge unspoken ‘monster’ that lives at the basis of addictions and anger and the rage of acting out of terrorism and other means of reclaiming a sense of power and control within situations where we are actually overpowered.  Grief itself is feared by many because it is like a tidal wave in a way.  We can try to run from it or defend against it, but in my experience it always then finds some kind of way to knock us over sideways.  Far better not to see it as a monster but as a rejected energy that wants us to turn towards, surrender and acknowledge it.  

Being able to accept that grief is there and that we are powerless to a degree is the first step.  We can use different forms of containment.  For me dancing and writing and walking help to move the grief through my body, the freeze state of some traumas and traumatic injuries can be all about frozen grief that brings a critical event to us which externalises its intense charge in some form and then leaves us knocked over, frozen paralysed or powerless. 

And if we look to the ancestral epigenetic component we can see how this stored charge of grief and anxiety can be passed on from generation to generation.  When I start to get into compulsive cleaning I am aware of how much grief and a sense of powerlessness fuelled my Mum’s own manic cleaning binges.  And I got badly injured myself when she was in the midst of some of them.   I have injured myself so many times or broken things either gardening or cleaning that these days I am much more mindful in the midst of such activities, stopping and breathing and centring myself as much as I can.

I do believe that like most emotions grief is a kind of visitor to us, as in the poem by Rumi.  If we welcome the visitation of grief and take some steps to give it a place, then just possibly we will not be as compulsively ‘run’ over by it (or over run by it) and in time we as we integrate it, it will deepen and enrich us in the process.  

And what is most important is to know that grief has a purpose and its presence in our lives or heart is a sign that something had great value to and was cherished deeply by us or longed for.  It has come time to understand that value or experience or let that something or someone go and so there will be a shedding if we are to move forward.  Such losses and griefs will always be with us and remain forever a vital part of our soul on our ongoing journey through life.

It’s okay to relax

Let go

 

It is okay

If I just remember to breathe

And also that I am not in charge of it all

The world will go on

Happily turning

Whether I stress or not

Doing cartwheels in my mind

And maybe its for the best

If I just remember to be kind

To life and hope

And who knows in any case

Just what the plan of God is

Or how things will eventually unfold

Maybe over time

I am learning just a little

To let go

To open to trust

And to understand

That when it comes to the family dis ease

Those essential truths

I didn’t cause it

Cannot really control

Nor cure it either

Though sometimes I forget

I am not God

Just one of the tiny cogs in a wheel that goes on turning

With or without me

Surely such a stance

Seems to return everything

To just the right size and place

It resolves me of unearned guilt

And helps me realise

Its okay just to relax

And nurture my heart

For isn’t it only through surrender

That anything of true value is really ever achieved?

Surrender to the tide

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If I can help you to know

Its okay to feel sadness

Please let me

I know it should not be so

That we need permission to grieve

And I have heard it said

That grief feels so much out of our control

Like a tidal wave that threatens to drown us

That is only natural that we would try to run

Or lock all the doors and windows shut with bolts of iron

Trying to pretend that all is fine

But really what we most need

Is to surrender

And allow ourselves to be tumbled about in the breakers

That pull us down to the bottom of a deep blue sea

But that said

It is not an easy thing to do

When everything in our life seems to go askew

And we are left standing all alone

Holding just a tattered remnant

Of what once was such a precious

Garment

Even now I struggle to find the words

To explain what it might mean to feel it

Allowing ourselves to let go of the barricades

So all I will say is this

Please remember

Grief really is nothing less than the measure

Of your longing and love for

The most precious and valuable of things

Free to feel sorrow

I am a big fan of embracing and accepting my emotions these days.  I consider them tides now that rise and fall and are like waves that would like us to ride them into what every shore they are breaking.  And even though it can feel exhausting to be hollowed our or broken open by grief like I was yesterday, I am so grateful now for my body’s ability to surrender to that tide rather than resist it’s natural flow.

I was thinking today of how braced my body became over years.  One of the consequences of not opening up to our feelings is that we hold our breath. We may have been taught to do this by a parent or other social conditioning, we may have been threatened if we were angry or felt sad with a punishment and so we had to freeze, or suck it up, or we may have tried to fight or fly away and been stopped, like when my Mum pulled my arm out of my socket when I was only three as I was trying to get away from her.

Yesterday at the crematorium as they played the song You’ll Never Walk Alone I really felt my abandonment wound triggered.   Gerry was far from alone in his cancer journey, Carmel listed in her eulogy all the things done for them.   I thought of my own breast cancer surgery where I had little in the way of support, a mere skeleton, but that is far from the only time I walked alone in my own life, especially after my father’s death in 1985.  This is not meant to be a post about self pity, only an attempt to say I had it really tough for so many years and validating that and feeling it is painful.  It is admitting to a truth.  I was not part of a close knit loving family like Carmel and Jerry and it’s been very hard.

Anyway surrendering to my feelings felt good yesterday even if quite uncomfortable at times.  It is not easy for many of us if we were never validated in the past.  But I truly do believe the fastest way to freedom is to feel our feelings and make sense of them, emotions are nothing less than energy in motion and energy wants to move out and through, having to bury it all inside has terrible consequences for us.  Embracing and feeling our grief is not automatic and complicated grief that is buried can be left undealt with for years with the result losses pile upon losses.  This is what I experienced as my sobriety unfolded with each funeral of a male friend or father of a friend, which would tap into all the pain over the loss of my Dad and his hurtful treatment of me over years as well as his stumbling attempts at kindness.  All these feelings were was buried for so many years in my addiction and probably my fear around males generated difficult reactions too the threatened intimacy between us.  These feelings can be a a potent cocktail when associated losses are being triggered in us from the unconscious.

When we grieve I believe we have to deal with feelings of powerlessness.  When someone we love dies or something is taken it shows we are not in control.  If we fight against the process we can end up blocked in my experience, far better to let ourselves surrender to what needs to move through us, reshape and change us.

The melting of love : insights from Anam Thubten

Embracing.png

.. love melts us.  When we feel love, our entire being becomes that love and the channels in our bodies begin to open.  We have to bring our bodies into our spirituality.  The body should not be rejected.  Enlightenment, transformation, healing, whatever we are aspiring to, we cannot experience any of them without bringing the body into spirituality.  So there is healing in the body, there is enlightenment in the body.  When we become that divine love, the body literally begins to melt, the channels, the chakras within it, begin to open, and we feel more love, more courage.  When we feel this divine love, the mind begins to melt, and it undoes all the knots inside it.  There is a large mass of knots in the mind: our belief systems and the thought patterns that we are so attached to are the knots in our minds.  These knots bind, imprison, and torment us.  They take freedom and peace away from us.  This love that I am speaking about is a pure experience of melting our frozen hearts.

This true love is not the feeling that we are one with the universe.  True love embraces everything, it does not reject anything. This love that I am speaking about is something we can cultivate.  There are many methodologies to cultivate this love.   There are beautiful songs we can sing.  There are profound verses we can recite.  There are mediations we can practice as a means to cultivate this love.  Sooner or later we feel that we become this pure love, this objectless love… the very quintessence of your being is pure love.  The nature of the river is this beautiful flow, even though it sometimes freezes.  To truly realise that the very quintessence of your being is true love, you may have to have self knowledge, which is this honest and complete understanding of yourself.  It is being aware of your divinity as well as your limitations.  YOu already know that you have divinity, and you know that you have courage and love.  You know that you are generous and open hearted.  You also know that sometimes you are able to give of yourself for the well being of everyone else.  It won`t be difficult for you to own your own holiness.  At the same time you have limitations – fear, insecurity and selfishness.  Once you become aware of these limitations, don’t try to demonize or condemn them.  If you demonize your imperfections, then you may end up being more and more frozen.

Once you become aware of your coarse neuroses as well as your subtle neuroses, love them.  Love all your neuroses.  Love all your imperfections.  Learn to love your fear and your anger as well.  Always be aware of them, and they will dissolve on their own. They will keep dissolving without any effort.  As time goes by, you become more and more this melting, living mandala rather than this frozen one.  Your heart is filled with more joy and more love.  You feel more and more connected to this world as a paradise – an imperfect paradise, not a perfect paradise.  In the end, you may love everyone and everything that exists.

We are vulnerable

To be human and to be alive is probably to be vulnerable.  Its a thought that I had today after re reading a prayer I wrote earlier asking for help to overcome fear.  I wondered after reading it if I had been asking for something that is only possible for moments rather than as an ongoing state of being a world so often fraught with insecurity and peril.  My question Isn’t a bit too much of an ask for us to have it together all the time and not struggle with the inherent insecurities in our lives?

That said a lot of what we expect to experience is based on past experience, so if in the past things didn’t go well or we were hurt this becomes our point of view or expectation and we do need boundaries and self care and some protection, just not so much that we limit our ability to live and love and forward move and grow in this life.

I became a fan of Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron a few months after my last serious accident in 2005.  I was recommended to read her book When Things Fall Apart by a friend who had also nearly lost her life and the central message of her teaching involves not erecting defences against what she calls ‘the soft tender sore spot’ in one’s heart.  Pema claims that it is part of our human nature to always be struggling to get some solid ground under our feet but paradoxically the more we strive for this the more we can become attached to things being a certain way and then we just end up suffering more. The more defences we erect against pain too, the less we become connected to our pain as it is a central tenant of Buddhism that we look to our mutuality and inter dependence with other human’s and all living things and all living beings are vulnerable and suffer.  The Buddhists recognise a seamless web of interconnection between every living thing that we only split and divide and pay a price for so doing in neurosis.  Its only in embracing this inherent insecurity that we have a chance of finding some inner security and happiness.  The Buddhists also recognise that it is through opening to our pain and suffering instead of defending against it that we experience our interconnection with others, so opening our hearts is actually a powerful practice not only to heal but also to reconnect to our essential oneness not only with humans but also with nature and cycles of birth, growth, loss, death, change and transformation that are involve in all of creation.

With these thoughts in mind I am sharing tonight an excerpt from The Pocket Pema Chodron.  

No Happy Ending

In one of the first teachings I ever heard, the teacher said, “I don’t know why you came here, but I want to tell you right now that the basis of this whole teaching is that you’re never going to get it all together.”   I felt a little like he had just slapped me in the face or thrown cold water over my head, but I’ve always remembered it.  There isn’t going to be some precious future time when all the loose ends will be tied up.  Even thought it was shocking to me, it rang true.  One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level or at the level of mental peace.

Learning to bear the storm, to find a centre in the middle of the storm or change, that is what an opening up practice is about. Its not always easy to stop defending our selves or reacting from primitive parts of our brain to find less reactivity in the middle of chaos or change, but its definitely worth a try, as is, in our moments of darkness and pain the recognition that despite the aloneness we may feel so many other suffers and struggle just like us and experience loss and feelings of insecurity in failing to get it all together too.

Remaining Steady

Emotional turmoil begins with an initial perception – a sight, sound, thought – which gives rise to a feeling of comfort or discomfort.  This is the subtlest level of shenpa, the subtlest stage of getting hooked.  Energetically there is a perceptible pull; its like wanting to scratch an itch.  We don’t have to be advanced meditators to catch this.

The initial tug of “for” or “against” is the first place we can remain steady as a log.  Just experience the tug and relax into the restlessness of the energy, without fanning this ember with thoughts.  If we can stay present with the rawness of our direct experience, emotional energy can move through us without getting stuck.  Of course, this isn’t easy and takes practice.

The last time

 

Night

The scent of your perfume lingers on your jumper

Here in the dark

Light stolen by the night

Reminds me of the times

You were alone

So now

How can I miss you

Knowing you are now home

With the ones you loved and lost

Again

And then there was peace

I felt it rise after you passed

Despite the shock and the painful aftermath

There was a sense of your spirit lingering on the breeze

Blowing into my bedroom with the storm

Through an open door

Later that night

It seemed as though your presence was in everything

Why do we fight against letting go

How can we surrender

Rilke said it well

Kneel and Embrace your nights of suffering

Or just decide instead to ride the tide

That comes and goes

For no one knows

When will be the last time

We ever get

To say goodbye

Letting go of outcomes

When

There is a profound passage in the Indian spiritual text the Bhagavad Gita that says “you have power over your actions but not the fruits of your actions.”    Tonight I have been also thinking of Steps One and Two of the 12 steps in AA   (1) We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol (or others) and  (2) Came to believe in a power greater than us (or our limited will).

It is interesting that the planet of will, desire and action, Mars is very close to a conjunction or meeting with the powerful planet Pluto at the moment.  Mars is at 19 degrees of Capricorn and Pluto at 21 and today the Moon in Cancer opposed both planets around the time I met with my brother.   I have been thinking tonight that I must admit the limits of my power over others.  I had an experience of connecting with someone who led me to believe we had the chance of a relationship but when I admitted my fear of being left and my need for quiet time as a sensitive person he broke contact and it hurt me deeply last night.  But I also know I was honest and real about my limits and scars and he could not meet me in that place and reassure me, he wanted something else I could not give.  I let him know two sisters had attempted suicide when their husbands left them and that was the end of any connection.

I had power over my action of telling him the truth and no power over the fruit of my actions.  I am in a similar space with trying to deal with what is happening for my older sister right now.  I don’t have the will to call her and have to hear all the confusion inside her.  I have spent at least 12 calls over past months staying on the phone with her for up to an hour and a half each time, just being with her and trying to connect, to give her encouragement to embrace life and move foward.  I offered to make dinner, I offered to take her to a movie and other things but she was not interested.    I did not call this week, after the call she made to tell me a friend’s wife is dying of terminal cancer.   I could not breathe well during that conversation and felt at the limit of my tolerance and my good mood was destroyed by the news for that night.  I know it might sound resistant but at times it all gets too much, all the illness, suffering and pain, all the loss and emptiness and endings.   They just dont seem to stop and I felt I needed time out so I just let go.  And tonight I realised that is what I have to do with the relationship promise offered and then withdrawn,  for now I have to accept I am on my own.

I have been praying to my dead relatives alot today. After dinner was finished I just sat and cried and admitted how scared I feel and helpless, powerless really.  But in the 12 step programme powerlessness is not the ending, we do in step 2 and 3 come to believe there may be another force at work (an underground force) that may have different intentions for us than the ones we wish for or choose.  It may be that we have to let go of something we really want, long for or treasure and there may be no way around it.  There may be a time we come to realise we have done all we can and the outcome is now out of our hands.  That is how I am feeling tonight.  Over the next few days as Mars meets up with Pluto in the sign of Capricorn which is about perseverence while crossing a stony landscape I will just hold myself in the intentional mindset of letting go and surrender, not in a hopeless way but in one that accepts that so much happens in life I have no control over.  I know when I try to control outcomes that are out of my hands I end up in insanity.  I will only go crazy or end up hurting myself or others more if I try to control what I am powerless over.  There are other things I do have some power over, how I react and what I expect from a frustrating situation.  I can choose to let go or take another healthier course of action.

After you left

Shine

After you left My heart it broke it two But also there was relief As my darling I knew then your spirit had flown free From this place of suffering

My darling sis You were so beautiful and so strong But stubborn too It was not always easy to love you But the love you had in your heart And your kindness to others Well it just shone through

Today I found a card you scrawled in the illegible hand of the brain injured Expressing your love for your caregiver Annette I had a smile As I thought of how strong and positive you were Despite all of your heartbreak and loss

I thought of you too as I watched those later leaves clinging to the branches of the tree Not yet ready to fly free I remembered that last night time vigil by your bed on Easter Saturday As you lay in a coma and I held your hand

Please don’t leave me I cried And then If you must go please go free

In the movie A Monster calls The truth demanded of Colin when his mother is dying Is just this For him to cry out his words of protest and admit his vulnerablity at an inescapable fate rather than defend against the pain with anger

So it is when those we love are torn from us As much as we wish we could hold on Or turn back time In the end all we can do is surrender and open our hearts to the grief that comes As the spirit of the one we love leaves its earthly bond bodily home And finally flies free without us

Really really gone

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When the one you love has gone

There is no longer a spirit at home in that body

Hands have grown cold

And the heart that used to beat love’s blood

Is deathly still and silent

As the lifeless corpse greets us

Or is hidden in a box

Shielding from us

Such a stark and painful reality

Blocking the full onslaught of our grieving

And if you think about it

Is not our grief

Just another kind of shedding?

From the cold body

Spirit has taken wing

Flown off to nether regions

Like breath that is surrendered

Becomes the air

And wind

And rain

Around us

Last night

I felt your spirit in the thunderstorm

That brought relief after weeks of dry heat

In a dessicated place

The deep hole left by your absence

Slowly filled

Becoming a pool of tears

This is where I sit now

As images and memories of you

Rise from the depth of it

To the surface

My heart opens wider

To encompass painful realities

Of how sometimes

Life with you hurt

And I realise

You are really really gone

And yet too

As long as my heart beats

And my eyes see

Even inwardly in imagination

Your essence still

Lives on