Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Presence

I recently received a wonderful question as a result of my last blog post:

Hi Vic,
Thanks for inspiring others and bringing your life back to track again. I lost my dear wife of 22 years on 2nd Feb 2010, and since then it has been a tough journey for me. The pangs come back occasionally, but I reassure myself not to give up.

I am practicing the 'staying in the present' principle that you've recommended, and it works. I have had a few good nights' sleep since using the technique.

But I have one doubt which I request you to clarify. Is staying in the here and now not akin to suppressing your memories of your loved ones or the incidents relating to death?

Is it again not in conflict with your advice to suffer the pain of the memory intensely by going to the core of the memories and pain?

Chinmay


I decided to post my full reply publicly because I believe that many other people have similar questions. It is my hope that I can shed a little more light on this important area.

I'll begin by stating that I, like many others before me, have found the metaphor of a journey to be suitable for wrapping my head around the grieving process:
  • A journey has a beginning and an end.

  • A journey implies a sense of adventure and a sense of the unknown.

  • When one undertakes a journey, one expects to be changed by the journey in some way.

  • One also expects to experience some degree of unpleasantness on the journey.

  • One does not always undertake a journey willingly.

  • A journey implies a long period of time.

  • A journey can be described as a passage.

It was never my intention to undergo the journey of grief. I always thought Deb would somehow get better. It was inconceivable to me that she would die. She was only 32. 32 year-old women don't die, right?

Luckily I had completed a number of physical journeys before Deb died, so I could use some of that knowledge and apply it to my journey through grief.

First, I knew right away that I needed a roadmap -- I needed to know where I would be going and where I would likely end up. So, I started reading the accounts of widows and widowers who had gone before me. I didn't like to read about the years they spent grieving (I didn't want to grieve for more than a couple of months). I didn't like to read about their pain, their anguish, their loneliness. But, in reading about what other people experienced, I could prepare myself. I wanted to make sure I had the proper tools with me when I encountered those obstacles myself.

Most of those tools I have documented in this blog. The Grief Recovery Handbook was very helpful to me. Frequent walks in nature helped. Essential oils helped. Getting out and doing things helped. Listening to classical music helped. Attending a monthly grief support group helped. Attending a closed grief support group for ten weeks helped. I was building up my toolbox.

One tool that I read about was going to the core of my grief. I guess I had a fear that my grief had a tremendous depth that, if I strayed too close to the edge, it would consume me or something. So one evening after my son went to bed, I sat on my couch and decided to simply feel my grief. When it started hurting me, I went deeper in, and then deeper still. Then I decided to find the deepest, most painful spot -- to find that supposed black hole which threatened to consume me. And to my great surprise, I found that grief was rather flat -- it wasn't deep after all, but more like a wading pool. Searching for that most hurtful place eluded me. If anything, the pain lessened instead of increased. You can read more in my post about Unsatisfying Grief.

So -- to get back to Chinmay's question ;-) Is staying in the here and now not akin to suppressing your memories of your loved ones or the incidents relating to death?

No.

When I look at the dictionary definitions for 'suppression', I get the sense of force and inhibition. I've seen many examples of widows/widowers who did attempt to suppress their grief, and it caught up to them, sometimes many years later.

And to be clear, unless I live as a monk, I won't have the opportunity to live in the here and now 24/7. In my work, for example, I have to be thinking about the future or dredging up facts from the past. I'm currently planning a few upcoming trips, one with my family in tow. So I am actively using my mind for many things, and I do follow where many of those thoughts lead.

The best way I can describe the process is as a matter of focus. When I am working, I am focused on work. When I am with my family, I focus on them. I don't think about my family while working, and I don't think about work while with my family. One of my most favourite sayings is:

Wherever you are, be there!

So here's the key -- when my grief did surface, I stayed with my grief. I experienced it fully. I didn't try to supress it by thinking about work, or an upcoming trip, or anything else. I simply allowed it to be present. Here and now. If a thought did come up, like how much worse my life was at the time, I focused on the feelings associated with the thought. I did not follow the thought. The essence of Vipassana is to not react to thoughts. Allow thoughts to come up and pass away. Don't react to them. Respond to them.

Does that make sense?

I'll end with this: Vipassana is a tool, a very powerful tool. It is not the only tool. It is like a hammer. In rebuilding my life during grief, not every problem was a nail.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I lost my partner in March 2010. I found this blog very helpful. I had practised meditation sporadically over the course of many years. I started to meditate regularly, twice a day, in June. This allowed me to stay calmer, and to succeed more often at living in the present, and more importantly, not dwelling on the life I used to have and comparing it to the present. I am at a strange juncture, where I think I have relinquished both hope and despair, to a large extent. But it feels very odd, and takes some getting used to. But I highly recommend stilling the mind, in some way, and making a concerted effort to remain in the present moment.

Vic said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'm very sorry for your loss.

I'm glad this blog has been helpful to you. I think I get what you are talking about regarding relinquishing hope. I remember the day shortly after Deb died that I processed the fact that hope was dead also. I had always held out hope that somehow she would recover, but now even hope was pointless.

Despair, now that was something I did not relinquish until I learned to meditate :-)

Thanks for helping to encourage others to quiet their minds as well. It made a huge difference for me. Actually, it made all the difference.

Take care,

Vic

Parlemort said...

Hello. I am so sorry for your loss. I am currently grieving because my divorce resulted in my children being moved 1600 miles from me. I respectfully submit that you should change the words 'leaving me' on your profile to 'and I became a single parent' or something along those lines. Sincerely, Sam aka Parlemort

Anonymous said...

don't worry. You will experience the most horrific grief you can ever imagine.
just wait, it will come. it did for me. my husband died of ALS Lou Gherigs disease. it's been 3 years, and fuck, I still haven't started dating yet. This hate and grief thing sucks!
it can consume you. i will probably kill myself.....

Jennifer Buccolo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.