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Give Up, Let Go – A Lesson in Trustful Surrender (the post-practice post) March 7, 2021

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[This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #5 from March 5th. This was a restorative practice with opportunities to reflect, heal, grieve, and cast something into the ether – opening up space for new possibilities and new beginnings.

You can request an audio recording of Friday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

 

“We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accepted it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

 

– quoted from Chapter 3 of A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

 

“‘You may grieve sincerely, Arjuna, but it is without cause. Your words may seem wise, but the truly wise one grieves neither for the living nor the dead!’”

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.11) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

 

“‘You grieve for those who call for no grief and yet you utter words of wisdom. Oh, Arjuna, the wise grieve neither for the dead or the living.’”

 

– an alternate translation of BG 2.11

Starting a blog post about loss with quotes from C. S. Lewis and the Bhagavad Gita is not going to work for everyone. I know this. But we are all closing in on a year of social distancing, isolation, and loss and this might be helpful. So, I’m going to ask you to stick with me for a moment… at least 3 or 4 paragraphs.

In The Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is faced with a civil war and, in some ways, paralyzed by the possibility of losing those he loves – and being responsible for the deaths of those he loves and admires. When his friend and charioteer reveals himself as an avatar of God, he is not admonished for experiencing a very real human emotion. No, Krishna explains that Arjuna is looking at the situation through a very limited and “unwise” perspective. What Krishna really wants the prince to understand is that the end, as we know it on earth, is not the end – it is a merely a change. We humans are not great fans of change – especially change we haven’t instigated and embraced, but many find comfort in the spiritual or religious perspective. C. S. Lewis cautions that we can confuse “real faith” with imagination. But, even then, the faith perspective is one way people develop functional coping skills (to deal with change) and one way that helps people experience less suffering.

Similarly, some people develop functional coping skills and solace from a philosophical or psychological perspective. For instance, Patanjali attributed suffering to avidyā (“ignorance”), a kind of “afflicted” or dysfunctional thinking that leads to four additional types of afflicted/dysfunctional thinking. The last three of those afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns are the things we like/love (our attachments rooted in pleasure); the things we dislike (our aversions); and fear of death/loss. When we understand that the second afflicted/dysfunctional thinking (a false sense of self) is built on the third and fourth (attachments and aversions) we begin to see why even losing our keys can result in the same “anticipatory panic” or anxiety that we feel before losing a major life-altering change that comes from loss.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

 

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

 

– quoted from Chapter 1 of A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

 

On some level, we have all experienced what C. S. Lewis observed, because we all have some experience with loss. We may lose something minor (like our keys or a game) or major (like a friend or family member) and everything in between (like a job, a home, or an important piece of information); but the experience of the mind-body is very much the same. In fact, in a Psychology Today article about the “4 tasks of grieving,” Dan Bates (LMHC, LPC, NCC – and “Mental Health Nerd), stated, “Every loss is like a death. This is not necessarily a physical death (although the death of a loved one is certainly included), but loss entails that a part of you, a piece of your life, has died.” I’ll even add to that that life as you know it has died.

It may seem trite, but it doesn’t make it any less true: the mind-body does not always distinguish losing those we love with losing a body part or a job. Neither does it distinguish those major experiences from the experience of forgetting where we placed our keys, parked our car, lost a board game, and/or rooted for a professional sports team that lost. This is especially true when, as has been the case this last year, we are inundated with so much loss. So, we not only may experience panic and anxiety, but also all the other classic traits of grieving.

In 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross released her seminal book On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families, which outlined various ways her terminal patients dealt with grief. Later, she would apply these same experiences to anyone experiencing loss – in particular, those her terminal patients were leaving behind. We think of these experiences (as they were described) as stages; however, the model was never intended to be linear. Despite the attempts of Dr. Kübler-Ross and others to better explain, people still sometimes think of grieving like a train or bus with scheduled stops – as opposed to a gymnastics wheel that is rolling down a hill while we hold on with one hand. We may pause here and there, we may engage enough core strength to change directions and (sometimes) keep from falling over, but ultimately we are going to keep going… until we run out of hill.

“The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one[s] we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order.”

 

– quoted from On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler

Because of the misconceptions about the “five stages of grief” – as well as the continued research in the bereavement field and a focus on the healthy aspects of actively engaging in bereavement (rather than  passively experiencing grief) – people like Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut, as well as William Worden, have described other grieving paradigms. These models provide an opportunity for people to process their grief regardless of if they have a religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical practice and regardless of the type of loss they have experienced.

Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut outlined a “dual process model of coping” which describes “bereavement” as an experience whereby one swings between loss-oriented and restoration-oriented responses until one finds/reaches a balancing point between facing the reality of what has been lost and learning how to reengage in life (after loss). In this way, we recognize the grieving or bereavement period – no matter how long it lasts – as a liminal moment, a transitional or threshold moment: a moment, as Dr. Joan Borysenko often describes it, “between what is no longer and what is not yet.”

More specifically, Dr. Borysenko calls “liminal time”, “that pregnant pause between what is no longer and what is not yet.” Which means it is a time when we are getting ready for new life – and preparing for all that that new life requires.

“Loss-oriented responses include grieving, crying, thinking about our loved one, and that strong desire to curl up under the covers and never come out.

 

Restoration-oriented responses include learning new skills…. you are able to focus on day-to-day tasks and get at least temporary relief from the emotional drain of your loss.”

 

– quoted from “The Dual Process Model of Grief: Navigating the Spiral” by Heather Stang (MA, C-IAYT), posted on the site of Mindfulness & Grief Institute, January 23, 2014 (updated April 19, 2020)

Loss-oriented processes focus on the things we traditionally and stereotypically associate with grieving: recognizing and accepting the changes that come from loss. This is where we find the “classic” emotional experiences of yearning, irritability, anger, despair, anxiety, and depression. There can also be guilt and denial. We may feel fixated on the loss and also may feel as if we cannot move beyond the figurative and/or literal time-space. This is when we are most like a one-dimensional Western image of Akhilāņdeśvarī (“The Goddess Who Is Never Not Broken”): curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, finding some solace from the one check that presses against the cool tile.

The thing about “She Who Is Never Not Broken,” however, is that (traditionally) she is multi-dimensional. Akhilāņdeśvarī rides a crocodile, for goodness sake! Remember, a crocodile is known for its “death spiral” and reptilian (fear-based) brain. But she stands on top of it – she is continually conquering her fear and continually facing the constant changes of the “death spiral” with a calmness that only a goddess can embody. Even when she is portrayed in pieces (because she is always broken) or portrayed with multiple versions of herself, there is some awareness or hint of new possibilities. Then there is my favorite multi-dimensional Western image, which is a sculpture by Paige Bradley. Full disclosure, I don’t think the artist knew anything about the goddess when creating the piece called “Expansion,” but it embodies the spirit of the goddess in that it depicts strength, wisdom, courage, peace, and light despite (or because of) being broken.

The goddess that is the statue was broken – is always going to be broken – but she has also been put back together again… and in a way that makes her even more amazing! This is a sign that restoration-oriented processes have kicked in. There is acceptance and a relinquishing of attachments, as well as a focus on a “new reality.” During restoration-oriented processes, a person can experience pride as well as what might be described as “grief.” It is during the restoration-oriented processes that we encounter William Worden’s “4 tasks of grieving” – which the psychologist says are active engagements:

  1. Accept the reality of the loss
    1. Right at the beginning each of us is faced with two choices: Are we going to (a) wallow in despair and spend our energy wishing nothing had changed or (b) adapt and move forward?
  1. Experience the pain of grief
    1. Everyone wants to be free of suffering and most want to avoid it completely. However, stuffing down and ignoring the painful emotions and sensations does not make them go away. Rather than spending energy avoiding the discomfort or emotion, we must begin to processing it. Processing can be done individually and/or in a group; with family and friends and/or with a therapist. It can involve journaling, meditation, movement, and/or stillness. It can be filtered through a religious ritual and/or a cultural tradition. There is no one way to process. But each of us can find at least one way that will be helpful.
  1. Adjust to an environment without the missing
    1. This is where “survivor’s guilt” can kick in. This is also the point when we need to remember that we are still alive and, therefore, still have possibilities. Considering the possibilities may swing us back to the first task and/or to loss-oriented processing – that’s OK. Take a breath and be full present in the moment, even when it is a challenging moment.
  1. Find an enduring connection while embarking on a new life

The final task is a very personal and intimate task – and it’s going to be different for each of us, but it’s also going to be different for each loss. Years and years ago, I read that when you experience a breakup, you should get rid of all the things the person ever gave you (in order to break the psychic/energetic connection). That idea made me think of all the stories and movies where someone, very dramatically, returns all their gifts in a box. That idea never really appealed to me, because I recognized the place someone held in my life and in my heart and I decided there had to be another way to heal. On the flip side, the idea resonates with me in reverse; that is to say, what item can you hold onto as a momento?

Another way to find an enduring connection is through shared experiences. I’m a bit of a foodie and I grew up around Irish wakes; so, I am quick to ask about someone’s favorite food or drink. Granted, it’s been a seriously long time since I toasted a former co-worker with their favorite drink (Jameson) and I’m as likely to do that again as I am to eat a departed person’s favorite meal if that meal involves meat. However, a tribute is symbolic and intentional. I don’t have to drink the actual drink to honor a friend with a “parting glass.” Neither do I have to eat the meal exactly as we once ate it to remember the memories. In fact, to honor someone who is past while honoring your present and future moments is the epitome of the fourth task.

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

 

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[Please Note: The first two tracks are for the physical practice. On the Spotify playlist, these are not the original tracks I had in mind for the practice, but they are similar enough to cultivate the intended experience. The third track (on both playlists) could be used as the beginning of the practice music, but is really intended to be the beginning of music you can use to process off the mat or with a more active physical practice. Fair warning, I may remix the Spotify playlist – and I will probably add music to both playlists.]

 

I am not a therapist and offer this information only as a point of reference. If something above resonates with you and you need (or would like) assistance with your experiences, please contact a therapist or grief/bereavement counselor.

 If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

 

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