Sunday, March 2, 2008

Survival Breakdown

I've always had an interest in human psychology and why we as humans do what we do. Once I became a widower, this interest only intensified. Grieving is not a uniquely human experience by any means, but it is certainly one of the most intense, if not the most intense, human experience. As the intensity of my grieving picked up, I started consuming books about psychology and grief. I wanted to know: Why do we grieve? Why pain? What is the purpose of grieving? How long will this go on? My thought process at the time was, if I can understand why I am going through this living hell, then I can find the Grief Recovery Tools I need to help get me out.

While I was in Tampa last month, we talked about the three primary drivers of all human action:

  1. Survival

  2. Reproduction

  3. Survival of our offspring


These three desires fuel all our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Now that our spouse is dead, we have had to confront our primary drive, Survival, and acknowledge that no, we don't all survive, and, more to the point, this drive for survival will ultimately end in failure. Yet we are still driven to survive. It's like that joke — Despite the high cost of living, it remains popular ;-)

I have previously mentioned The Sedona Method, a super-important book that I feel strongly every widow/er should have in their Grief Recovery Toolbox. This book will lead you through the maze of your emotions and help you to release them all. Big promise, yes, and it certainly delivers.


The Sedona Method further breaks down our primary drive for survival into three primary desires:
  1. Wanting Approval

  2. Wanting Control

  3. Wanting Security


It probably helps if you are able to visualize these three and understand their significance. In the book, they use a tree diagram that they call "the imaginary tree of limitation." Here's how they describe it [pp 181-183]:

The Anatomy of an Imaginary Tree of Limitation

Imagine that you are lost amid a dense forest of imaginary limitation. What's the anatomy of these trees? At the subtlest level, they are made up of atoms, which, in our world, we call "thoughts." Moving toward a little more density and structure, the leaves on this imaginary tree represent your individual feelings. The branches represent the nine emotional states. The trunk and the roots spreading out laterally from the bottom of the trunk represent wanting approval and wanting to control, as well as their opposites. The taproot, growing straight downward into the soil, represents wanting security and its opposite. Lastly, the soil represents wanting to be separate and its opposite, wanting to be one. (See illustration)

If we wanted to fell these imaginary trees of limitation and clear a path through this imaginary forest by releasing, there are several ways we might go about it. We could let go of one atom at a time by working to change our thinking. But that would take a long time. We could be even more active and proceed by plucking off individual leaves (feelings). But leaves tend to grow back. Or we could start pruning the branches (the nine emotional states). If you've ever pruned a tree, however, you know that branches often come back healthier than before. We would only start making significant progress once we began chopping at the trunk and lateral roots (the wanting approval and wanting to control). Of course, many trees have grown back from stumps even after some of their roots were removed.

There is not much certainty of eliminating this imaginary tree until we set about severing its taproot: wanting security and its opposite, wanting death. Now remember, in the forest of limitation where you're lost, every tree is imaginary. All limitation is imaginary.

At any point in this process, you can get a glimpse of what lies beyond the trees, the background of perfection and infinity that supports yet is unaffected by the forest. So, allow for the possibility as you use the Sedona Method that big chunks of the forest itself can fall away. Often, when you least expect it, you'll let go of big chunks of your imaginary limitation quite spontaneously. This will happen more and more frequently as you release at the level of the four basic wants.


The entire book is The guide for releasing and letting go of your emotions. Now that I am re-reading it, I can see how well it dovetails with Vipassana meditation and Eastern Thought in general. Why my interest in Eastern Thought? Simple: in the West, all advice to the bereaved is, "learn to live with your pain — it will be with you for the rest of your life." In the East, the advice is different: "Learn to let go of all your emotions, needs, and desires, and experience real peace."

It should be clear which advice I chose. You do not have to feel this pain forever. You can let it go. And it is easier than you think.

1 comment:

Nat said...

Merci Vic...