#18 in a series of wild and precious things to help you access grief.
This week we learned about grief. We are grieving, collectively and individually. though the losses may be different for all of us — some have lost people close to them, some have lost employment, some have lost money, some have lost all sense of structure, some have lost important social talismans — we’re all experiencing loss. I know this is an important, if tremendously unpleasant (for me), emotion. I have imperfectly ranged from grasping controllable parts of my day (as a drowning person might grasp for a buoy) to easing into grounding activities like yoga (thank goodness my local yoga studio went online — Bambu yoga is lovely). I’ve been noticing our grief responses and contemplating the importance of learning how to lean in to this emotion to get emotionally more flexible and strong. All the emotions are important: as Elizabeth Wilder told me in our conversation (podcast episode coming this week!) it’s as if you are a piano — when you learn and practice using all the keys (grief included!) the music your life makes is just that much more rich and whole. So let’s dive in!
“Ours is a culture that treats grief — a process of profound emotional upheaval — with a grotesquely mismatched rational prescription. On the one hand, society seems to operate by a set of unspoken shoulds for how we ought to feel and behave in the face of sorrow; on the other, she observes, “we have so few rituals for observing and externalizing loss.” Without a coping strategy, she finds herself shutting down emotionally and going “dead inside” — a feeling psychologists call “numbing out” — and describes the disconnect between her intellectual awareness of sadness and its inaccessible emotional manifestation:
It was like when you stay in cold water too long. You know something is off but don’t start shivering for ten minutes.” Maria Popova, quoting Meghan O’Rourke, “How We Grieve: Meghan O’Rourke On The Messiness of Mourning And Learning To Live With Loss”
Well, so — how to journal about grief while collectively grieving in a culture that would rather you do it “just so” or not at all. We’re all in this together, and yet, as you have probably noticed, especially if you are in a small space with a few people, expressing difficult emotions needs to be done with some grace. Journaling can help. Finding time to dip your toe into the cold water of grief and writing or drawing a response to it can give structure to something that resists structure. The acceptance of loss—not that you are okay with the loss but that you accept its existence—is important but challenging.
Get still and breathe deeply with your hand lightly on your belly until your belly softens. Find where in your body you are experiencing your feeling of grief. Visualize it and then draw/paint or write a description of it. Notice how those feelings are not you.
Grief can feel rudderless. It’s probably why we reach for ways to numb it. Without cultural rituals that give framework to our grief, and combined with a culture that sets an unattainable standard for what our expression should look like, we give up sometimes — and that is okay.
But as a challenge—this week try to find a few rituals in your life that feel safe and grounding. Playing music, walking a labyrinth, dancing, doing yoga—fill a bucket with rice or flax seeds and bury your hands in it. Make lavender scented playdough. Fingerpaint.
As a starting place, try noticing each moment in a daily ritual. When showering, feel the drops of water, smell the soap, etc.
5. Level-UP / Go Deeper
Choosing to move through grief is a worthy goal. You gain flexibility, strength, and — fully mixing metaphors — you play at your life-piano with all the keys — the music you make will be richer, deeper and more beautiful.
Staying the course can be challenging. One helpful carrot to keep you moving includes reminding yourself what makes your life meaningful. Begin to take pictures — or find old pictures — that represent
Keep these in a journal and reflect on these as you might a compass to keep you on track and help remind you where you are headed and why it’s worthwhile.
7. Podcast (Kate Bowler: Everything Happens)
8. Video (Michael Stenger: What Makes Life Meaningful TEDex)
9. Hero: Alain de Bouton Founder
Why? He wanted to go further in his thinking about life. Having made a career from writing essays on everyday philosophy, on writing and thinking about how we should live, he decided to create something called The School of Life in 2008. I remember listening to him speak about this idea and now seeing it come to fruition, I am grateful that he created something out of nothing.
10. Take Care of Yourself This Week and Share if you know someone who might like this.
The Underbelly Podcast available everywhere you download podcasts.