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.

These endless comings and goings

door-1

I just returned home after a morning in the park with Jasper and a visit to our local shopping centre where I had a coffee in my favourite café.  I read a part of the novel I am currently immersed in Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer and had tears streaming down my face, as the main character turns away from the love of his life and chooses to spend his life alone.  His decision is described as witnessed by his best friend so eloquently.  I am tempted to include it here but I won’t, however it resonated with me on a deep level.  I then went to the library, had lunch and did some food shopping and came home.

Lately I have been just observing the thoughts and judgements that run through my mind endlessly coming and going.  Often the thoughts run a commentary that is endlessly criticising me, saying how I need to change or how others are doing so much better than I am.  One of these moments came upon me in the park today.  On Saturdays lots of couples come with their dogs, unlike during the week, when younger couples are working and there tend to me more single dog owners or those who bring the dog for the family.  I started to run a judgement about how all my of intimate partnerships have failed, due to my struggle with intimacy, then I go and read about a character in the book who goes through something similar.

When I arrived home, I had one of those epiphanies that can come upon you at times, the thought that came to me was this.  In life we experience an endless stream of comings and goings.  Perhaps not all people have had as many goodbyes as I have with the many endings in my own life, maybe some have more, who knows?   However it seems to me that this stream of attraction and repulsion, beginnings and endings, comings together and tearing apart or leaving is just part of the flow life.  When I can surrender to that flow and that dance I feel a profound sense of peace and atonement.

My thoughts then led onto how the breath itself when it is functioning optimally naturally flows in and out, but when there is Post Traumatic Stress or other stress or trauma conditions present we often tend to hold our breath.   We either contract or hold down the muscles in our body, or somewhere deep within we hold ourselves back out of fear of fully engaging.  We get paralysed from forward movement which gets fraught with all kinds of insecurities, doubts and fears.  We get blocked, our energy dammed up and constricted.  Life becomes a series of defensive reactions rather than open responses.  Whether we realise it or not we are trapped in resistance and constriction.

door-2

The first step out of this place of constriction comes with noticing the pain we cause ourselves when we stop breathing, constrict, pull back, run a negative ongoing inner commentary based on fear and resistance.  When we can open up and just notice and allow ourselves to feel what it might mean and how our body reacts when we resist or engage in over-thinking we start to loosen the holding of that pattern somehow.   With this noticing over time we get the chance to make a new choice or response, one less based in fear, one which opens us to the possibility that even though things must go, in time if we let go, then new things will come to fill the empty space that is left. Alternatively we may find that in embracing and the accepting the empty space with our full loving attention and presence we allow the emptiness, or sadness, or resistance or fear a voice to speak to us.  In such a way our emptiness becomes full.

I am intrigued by what happens in my own life and consciousness lately when I embrace the feelings of emptiness, when I notice when I am running the dialogue of criticism and self judgement, when I open to the fact that deep within the so called empty self something deep lives, a state of consciousness and awareness that has messages for me and will guide me to take a certain action or go in a particular direction.  When guided to that place often I find something or someone that has a message for me, or I embrace the next step of learning or am led onto the next thing I should be exploring or expressing.

Its seems in my life that a state of aloneness is necessary for me to be able to tune in at this deeper level to myself.  When I am engaged in chit chat at times the voice of the deeper self is drowned out.  This does not mean I never want to participate in chit chat, on the contrary, there are times I need to be ‘out’, but what I am realising is how essential quiet alone time and space is for me, on my particular journey.

Which makes me ponder could it be my destiny to be alone or to live a solitary life?  I know that I cannot live a life of disconnection, that is for sure and I feel I do have a lot to give and that requires me to reach beyond alone time to engage with others for part of the time, but I also know that alone time is as essential to my soul as air is to my body and breath.  Without enough of it my own life gets clogged up and constricted.

Life will at times come towards me and then it will leave, people will come and go in my life, as I will in theirs but always I will remain at the centre.  I am becoming aware that the return to aloneness is only true on a seemingly physical level, at a deeper level than the purely physical I am always deeply connected with life and with others.  I am never truly as alone lately as I was when I used to feel that terrible aching void of emptiness which really contained all the old feelings from my past I had not entered or processed.

Doing the deep work of understanding where the particular loneliness imprints came from in my own life and journey has returned me to a place not of loneliness but of connection and I feel such gratitude for this.  Grateful to feel the peace and contentment in the silence of a cold, rainy spring afternoon, on a day when I have been able to go out and experience the sweet pleasures of life and then returning home again to encounter more pleasures of alone time.

And reading this back prior to posting I am just wondering, has my wounded inner child finally found object constancy.  My therapist returns on Tuesday after a month’s break that at some level I fear I was scared she would not survive, but she did. As the final days of the he break pass I feel in a very strong place within, a strong place that rests on vulnerability rather than defence.

The healing journey of Chiron

Chiron

Its part of being human, being part of the natural cycle of things, that all things change and end.  There can be times when we hold onto old ways of being, old habits, old patterns of thought and even old defences that are not really helping us any more.  At one time they may have kept us safe or helped us to cope but as we change and grow we begin to see how old patterns can repeat over and over leading us in circles which do now allow any forward growth.

This is not to imply that the trajectory of growth occurs only in a straight line.  Often we have to cycle and recycle through and around old experiences, re-experiencing the original imprint or wound in a common way, we may have to do this many times, until we spiral up to a new level of consciousness and see the reality of what we have been living from a more detached perspective and that detachment is only the outcome of a process in which we have found that the cost of retribution or holding on leads us to even further suffering.

There are also times when something we really love and enjoy is taken from us, or we have the choice to voluntarily sacrifice that thing or habit in order to grow. On some level we are being asked to die to old ways of being and it may be a tough call.   The losing of that habit or thing will have a cost but it will also have a benefit which we can often not see when we are captured by the pain of loss and it may far outweigh the cost of loosing it in the long run.

We also cannot gain experience of truth until we have worked through the stages that lead to surrender and letting go.  We cannot find acceptance of difficult experiences and wounds, until we have suffered the pain of the full impact and worked through all of the emotions.  Being told to “just get over it” negates this deep process of suffering that accompanies the working through of betrayal, grief, humiliation or loss.  The way out is through and often it may feel like our heart is broken over and over in this journey of processing and letting go of the defences which protect us from the healing pain, that can release us and must be felt in order that we can transform.  Identifying where and how we were hurt also gives us skills to ensure we care for and protect ourselves in ways that don’t block us from love.

There are some wounds that will continue to hurt and can never be fully healed. Through suffering these wounds fully we will grow in compassion and conscious awareness of ourselves and others. It may be our soul journey to be a “wounded healer”, a person who, through suffering pain and trauma knows how to be there with others in the midst of their own difficulties.

In mythology and astrology the archetype which corresponds to this kind of soul journey is Chiron. In mythology, Chiron was a centaur who was accidently wounded in the Achilles heel by an arrow containing poison that had been left lying around the den of Hercules.  The poison was the legacy of Hercules battle with the nine headed Hydra.  If we study the myth of that battle it has very much to do with the demons that face us and can possess us following trauma, loss, betrayal or some other kind of abuse.

In mythology Chiron’s wound never heals but learning to live with it makes Chiron into a wounded healer who is able to administer to the suffering of others.  He knows the pain they suffer as he has felt it too and so he can be with them in then midst of suffering without trying to change it, but giving skills to those who suffer which prevent them from suffering more.

In many ways the healing wisdom of Chiron offers the healing antidote to many of the wounds that we suffer which are the outcome of circumstances often far beyond our control to change in the past.  The suffering may be acute and we may spend many years in pain but over time on the healing path of Chiron this suffering is transformed in nature.  Out of it wisdom is birthed and a sense of depth and compassion, most especially for ourselves but also for those who due to their own unconscious wounds, wound us in ways we wish they never had.

 

 

Goodbye to ghosts

Tree Blowing

This ghost haunts me

a long while here

then after the tears

this breeze comes

and blows the ghost away

but on the breeze

is the feel and memory

of what it was to love

in the midst of nature

that April

and then to lose it all

so painfully

four Januaries hence

did I fail?

or was it just the working out

of fate, harsh and unyielding

to my grieving heart

These memories of us

and the painful image

of you happy with someone new

remind me of how alone I am

and yet is there anything truly lost?

For I am still here

feeling all of this

my heart is still beating

if oh so sore

I am free

to touch or be touched

by life

by this cool gentle breeze

And I am no longer as alone

as I was then

Even though you have moved on

I will survive

and my heart

that has been deepened

by loss

will beat on.

Loving through Letting Go

Last night I dreamed of the lover who last broke my heart and launched me on the deepest dark night of suffering. I was no stranger to loss and the meeting with him triggered all the pain of past losses, although I was not yet fully conscious of this suffering and much of it was replayed out over the four and a half years of our relationship.

He needed me to be without the wounds and scars that I bore, I still was capable of love and of loving but there were oceans of pain buried in my body and of anger too. He had his own anger, I am sure this is why we found each other.

In a strange way it would take the loss of this relationship to lead me to the place of suffering where awareness would grow and where I could find love in the understanding and empathetic embrace of therapy, writing, solitude, new understanding relationships and deep in the sanctuary of my own home.

In the dream last night we were together again but there was the awareness that it was only for a time, and if the relationship were to survive I would need to let go and him too, no longer making demands. So it was in the dream.

This dream was probably prompted by listening to the song Heartbeats by Jose Gonzalez last night. This song and the album it appeared on was the soundtrack to our relationship and takes me back in a most powerfully evocative and haunting way to that first winter on the coast of our relationship : beautiful love making, dinners shared, picnicking and lying on the beach while he surfed, cuddling his lovely dog, Sally and listening to him play guitar.

This idyll did not last. Arguments began after many months of bliss. He wanted me to change into someone I was not. He could not explore that my being different was not a threat to him, most especially my sadness, I had gone through a lot of loss. Probably it was not the right time for us. But in a way it was the right time to try again for me, even if it failed and lead to even deeper loneliness and heartbreak for a long time.

The agony following his decision to end it for me was the worst I had known, containing within it the buried pain of three other heartbreaks as well the pain of my father’s death at 23 still not fully grieved, only grieved more fully through enduring echoing losses (of his father and mother).

This week I tapped most deeply into this pain. I became once again the deep sea diver of my own soul. The feelings of deep sadness in being fully felt passed. I must say this weekend even though it is dark and overcast here I am not feeling the deep soul ache of suicidal pain that has been with me from time to time over the past four years. My soul is healing. I can feel it and with the Sun passing through my twelfth house memories from times long past are rising up to the surface of consciousness like flotsam and jetsam.

I’m glad to have the astro awareness as it helps me to navigate and accept these cycles in my psyche and soul. And I am conscious too that soon Venus which was been navigating the second half of the sign Leo and has recently passed over my North Node in the first house will move forward to approaching square with my natal Chiron in the seventh where it will in the 0 degree of Virgo station to turn retrograde. This will be a time of navigating self value, of understanding where my pain has taken me, of the essential lessons of solitude have been necessary for me to live truly as the soul I need to be for me, while still part of the collective (my Sun Venus Mercury Jupiter and descendant are all in the seventh house in Aquarius opposite natal North Node in the first).

I see clearly this morning that the relationship I nearly tore myself apart to hold onto was not meant to last. I was meant to have this time alone and now I can remember the beautiful times before the fights without the terrible aching of pain and longing in my soul. All of this has been transformed for me. It has taken not only time but work. I needed to feel that pain and the other pains too, so intimately connected like a painful lattice tapestry in my soul.

This dark night is not a path I would have chosen but one I was destined to take and travel and was prefigured in a dream where an African woman with deep soul suffering in her eyes told me she had lost a baby the knowing was a dark light of acceptance around that loss.

And that we cannot hold onto love but must in letting go allow it its own time and space to effect the necessary dark alchemy on our souls.

Rage and grief : Letting Go Into Healing

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I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the connection between rage and grief.   Following an outburst several months ago at my support group where a lot of anger came up about being the end in line and there being no time to share because others had not considered the time and other people’s need, a week in which I had faced reading about my mother’s reactions to me as a small child that showed a theme of misunderstanding and rejection a friend in group told me that her sponsor had said to her of her own healing process. “Follow the anger and there you will find the grief.”

Lately, following a foot injury that came on the back of some very hurtful stuff said about me to someone by my sister, I’ve been feeling a lot of hurt amidst the gratitude for other positive gifts in my life.

Today as I sat on the floor in the kitchen crying with my dog Jasper sitting very close and protectively holding the space for me, the thought came to me as a voice in my head “at the moment you need to let yourself mourn”.

There is a lot to mourn, and in this I don’t want to seem like I am turning a blind eye to the many things I have to be grateful for, but there have also been many things to grieve.  I had a conversation with my nephew who is also struggling with issues of rage which he has connected to deep grief around his relationship with my older sister who died this year.

In the middle of the night this week I had an urge to do a google search on the connection between rage and grief. What came up was an excellent talk by the writer Judith Butler where she explores the connection between the two. She expresses many deep psychological truths so eloquently in this talk and she speaks of the letting go process which I guess to me relates to the letting go of that which is outside of our power to control in life : death, endings, betrayals, lack of affirmation all fall under this umbrella.

What we do have the power over is to allow ourselves to let go into the process of mourning, rather than resist and deny. I don’t think it is very easy in our culture to do this, but I think so many of us want and need to do it. Where we get stuck in the anger and rage (which is a natural phase of the process of facing grief and change) we may hold on too tightly to that rage as a way of maintaining control but then the process of deeper transformation can be aborted and we can end up more wounded

In a way held anger that isn’t resolved is like a saying to life that difficult, people, things and circumstances should not be. The truth is that when painful things happen to us it hurts. We don’t like being hurt and so we rage, but what if we felt the hurt and allowed ourselves to enter the heart of it, not by holding on but by letting go into it, allowing it to work its way out and lead us in the direction we need to go? That is perhaps a direction which would not have occurred without enduring that loss or painful experience.

In her talk, Judith Butler talks about mourning and grieving as being a process of undoing, a transformative journey which every fibre of our being can resist and yet into the heart of this transformation is the very place we need to go. So much of grief is out of our control, loss takes us to a space and place where the world we knew is irrevocably changed. And by that change, we too, are irrevocably changed.

The letting go into grief for me at the moment feels like an acceptance of the pain and through this acceptance is a letting be so the feelings can work through. For me, it is a saying NO to certain involvements around this time of year. For me I am feeling at this time a real need to be in the centre of my own life, for it is here that I am connected to my own heart and healing. I need the silence and stillness of this place to hear my own song, to see how it differs from the songs of others and yet also connects me to humanity.

When I touch this place where everything is allowed to exist and to BE I am no longer caught up in the doing, much of which I am now seeing is a distraction from the place of stillness and wholeness which feeds me at a very deep level.

I am aware of the damaging voices of the collective which try to tell us there is something wrong with being alone,   “be careful you aren’t isolating”, that who we are only depends on what we possess, our relationships, outer circumstances. Why can’t we see that in being alone we are not really alone but rather at home with ourselves; that in choosing to be we are not contracting but expanding into something infinite and large. We aren’t shutting out the world in defence, just seeking a place of quiet, solace and sanctuary within which we can know our true home and experience our deeper selves.

Need for quiet time, is for me one of the most essential of needs. Quiet time leads me home and refreshes me and makes the next involvement possible.

The retreat within to feel the truth of sadness and grief as well as the joy and peace that are the outgrowth of acceptance of things as they are enables life to move forward. It is not a deathly retreat but a retreat or regression for the purpose of moving forward.

It is where I am choosing to live now especially as my wounded ankle tries to heal and I feel the reverberations of that experience that have run like a thread not only through my life, but through the lives of others.  Today I am feeling such gratitude for this place of sanctuary and feeling the love that comes with the process of allowing and letting be.