Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Wider Perspective

Once we start the really hard work of grieving (i.e., after the shock phase has worn off and we really really start feeling terrible), a big challenge is how to view ourselves objectively. All our thoughts seem to be consumed with our lost loved one and how awful the world looks and feels without them. It seems that our only option is to continue to experience the world subjectively, yet this experience brings only pain and suffering. How can we step outside of ourselves? Until we can get a change of perspective, it seems that one miserable week flows seamlessly into another.

I'm reading a fascinating book buy Guy Finley called The Secret of Letting Go. I love reading about mental perspective tools that can dramatically alter the way we see ourselves and the world. The following story does just that [pp 89-92]:

... Twenty minutes later, Timothy found himself on one of the large sound stages where his father was making his newest movie. The next thing he knew, his dad had lifted him onto the high-backed, slick, black chair of one of the cameras. After throwing a few switches and making some adjustments to the lens, he told Tim to look into the camera's eye.

Tim leaned forward and put his eye against the soft rubber cup that covered the eyepiece and, when he did, he let out a high-pitched yelp. All he could see was a monster looking back at him! His father smiled and told him to look again — but this time to keep his eye there, no matter how scary it was.

He was frightened, but he trusted his dad, so he did as he was instructed. The monster was still right there and just as terrifying as before. But this time, as he looked through the camera's eye, he felt his father slowly moving the camera back and away from the monster. As the camera and Timmy pulled back, the scene that Timmy was looking at through the camera began to change. At first there was only the monster, but now Timmy was beginning to see more of the set. Funny old windows and velvet curtains, oak tables and chairs, and lots of other props filled the picture that only a moment before had just been the ugly monster.

To Tim's surprise, his father kept rolling the heavy camera back until now he could see all kinds of lights and microphones suspended over the elaborate set where the monster had been. Back farther still, and now Timmy could see some of the other studio sets and heavily wired ceilings. Way in the distance stood the scary monster.

Timmy knew that his father was teaching him something very important. He already felt a lot better, even though he wasn't sure exactly why. On the way home they stopped for a snack, and his father explained the lesson to him. Let's listen in.

"Sometimes unpleasant or scary things happen to us, like when you looked into the camera and all you could see was the monster. Whenever this happens, all we can do is think about what we saw and how to get away or protect ourselves from the threat. Like what happened with the monster, you didn't want to look again because you didn't want to see it again. The problem with this choice, Timmy, is that even though you don't look at it again, you are still living in and with the original frightening moment, only now this fear has become a fixed point within you as a memory and you take it wherever you go. Even more amazing is that this unpleasant fixed point within you — this scary memory — is more than likely determining where you go and what choices you make, since you are probably, unknowingly, trying to get away from it."

...He gently continued, "You were out on the back porch when I got home. You were feeling worse and worse the more you tried to make the day's events go away. Trying to make any unpleasant thoughts or feelings go away only fixes them in you. Try to understand this. That's why I made you look at the monster again and again while I kept pulling the camera back. The wider the view became in the camera's eye, the less frightening what you were looking at became. Finally, when we pulled all the way back, you could see there was nothing to be frightened about because you could see the whole picture. This is what you must do with every event, every thought and feeling, that crosses your life.

"Whenever you feel scared or anxious, remember this important lesson: mental or emotional suffering takes place only when you have become fixed in the partial. Break your temporary wrong focus and pull back from yourself. The wider you can extend your inner view, the less disturbed you'll be by what you may be seeing."

"...There are great possibilities in this life that are going to take time for you to discover. Life will show itself to you, and as it does you'll know just what to do and who to be. There is never any good reason to worry about anything. Treat those kinds of scary feelings like we did with the monster and just quietly pull back from them; make the scene wider and wider until you see them within the whole picture. Then you will know there was never anything real to be scared about."

I have been experimenting with this technique and have found it to be very helpful. I hope it does the same for you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Letting Go Emotionally

One of the more difficult aspects of grieving in the first 6-12 months is figuring out how to grieve. We know we are supposed to do it, we feel terrible, and it can be a huge struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Life seems meaningless, and yet we're supposed to get some energy and do this thing called "grieve." What the heck is that? How does one go about it? What is the point? Why the effort?

For me, I think it was about month thirteen that I was reading How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies. I talked a little bit about this in my post about letting go. Around this time, I was beginning to understand that my emotional energy was still largely caught up in thoughts about Deb, and that I had no emotional energy for anything else. In her book, Therèse Rando explains that this is a normal result of having invested so much of my emotional energy into my marriage for so many years. Now that Deb was dead, that emotional energy had nowhere to go, and it was chewing me up inside.

It was helpful for me to read the following [pp 230-232]:

You also have to change your emotional attachment to and investment in your loved one to reflect the reality that, despite your intense wishes to the contrary, he is dead and will no longer be able to interact with you as he did in the past. No matter how much you need him, nor how much you are determined that things in your life will not change, the fact of the matter is that your loved one no longer can give you what he did previously. He will no longer be able to return your emotional investment in him. As a result, over time you are going to have to change your emotional investment in him to accommodate this fact.

This is not a betrayal. It does not mean that you no longer love the deceased or that you will forget him. The relationship is altered, to be sure, but it always will exist in a special place in your heart and in your mind. What it does mean is that you modify your ongoing emotional investment in and attachment to him as a living person who can return your investment-you must let go of being connected to him as if he were still alive. The emotional energy that went into your relationship with him gradually must be detached from him, since he can no longer return it, and in time it must be channeled elsewhere where it can be returned for your emotional satisfaction.


The most crucial task in grief is this change in relationship with the person who died. It is the untying of the ties that bind you to your lost loved one. Again, it must be stressed that this does not mean that the deceased is forgotten or not loved. Rather, it means that the emotional energy that you had invested in the deceased is readjusted to allow you to direct it towards others who can reciprocate it in an ongoing fashion for your emotional satisfaction.


It is not an easy task to withdraw emotional energy and investment from someone you love. It takes a great deal of time and effort. It means that all of your ties to that person-your needs for and your feelings, thoughts, memories, hopes, expectations, and dreams about that person and your relationship with him-all must be brought up and revived [emphasis mine]. Then each one must be reviewed and felt. In this way the emotional charge is loosened or defused. You may still have the thought and memory of each one, but the emotional feeling accompanying it lessens in intensity. Gradually, over time, you do not feel the accompanying feelings any more, or at least not the way you did when they were intense and vibrant, kept alive by the ongoing, reciprocal relationship you had with your loved one before death.

After reading this, I finally felt like someone had finally adequately explained to me just what the heck I was supposed to be doing with my time in grief. I remember feeling like a key had turned in a lock somehow, that the door to a grief framework had finally been opened. I didn't look forward to the remaining grief work to be done, but I knew that once I walked through that door, I would be one step closer to that peace I was searching for.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Vipassana Meditation III

In my last post, I gave a day-by-day account of my Vipassana meditation course. Now that I've been back almost a week, I'm in good stead to talk a bit more about what I've taken away from the course and how it continues to impact my daily life.

First off, the course was not a Buddhist course, even though it originates from that tradition. So while I did eat only vegetarian meals while I was there (which were excellent by the way), the first place I stopped after the course was over was Burger King for a Double whopper ;-) I did have to go without caffeine through the whole course, and that is something I have continued. I did have a half-cup a few days after the course was over, but I am enjoying my first taste of caffeine-free living after about 18 years of daily coffee intake.

Of much more interest is how this impacted me as a widower. My personality is such that normally I'm always living in the near-future, with frequent jaunts to the past. I had read a great deal about how to live in the present, but that never really meant much to me. Sure, I understood intellectually about paying attention to the five senses, but it is a totally different thing to do nothing but pay attention to one's breath and skin sensations for 10 hours a day for 10 days. I get it now. And I have been making good use of this new faculty over the past week. It has proven to be very helpful.

Of deeper significance is the aspect of impermanence (Pali: anicca). I have lost track of the many times this week that I have been impacted by events in some way and I have simply stopped and observed the impermanence aspect of life. My first inclination is no longer to react mentally to thoughts and events. I am now trained to observe rather than react. Sure, my mind still begins to race and lead me down a bunch of different paths. But now, I can quiet my mind by simply observing the instantaneous change in my breathing and notice the biochemical sensations that begin in my body. And I find myself repeating, "things rise up and they pass away." Absolutely nothing here on this planet is permanent, yet I tended to get attached to them. That tendency is lessening every day now.

I also am really glad that I was able to get really close to "me." Not the guy who always has 5 projects on the go, people to call, books to read, places to go. The guy who breathes. That guy. The guy who can just be, nothing more. There's been a lot of stuff I have been cramming into my life, and I'd built up a fair bit of angst at trying to get it all done. That is dissolving now, albeit slowly. I'm still working out what I want to have in my life from my pre-Vipassana days. It is kind of fun to be starting over, at least as far as prioritizing my days.

And lastly, I'm viewing much more of life as one big experiment, and things that happen to me as other, smaller experiments. This view of life from the position of the observer has added a real sense of balance to my life that was not there before.

OK, enough theory, here's an example. I remember my son was talking about his mom earlier this week, and my mind shifted into high gear about what his life would be like if Deb was still here. Within a few seconds, I was observing how my breathing had changed and how my body was reacting to my thoughts. I could feel a tightness and heaviness in my gut as my body made real the mental aspects of loss. And yet I was now no longer simply reacting; rather, I was observing this instance of the mind-body phenomenon at work. I noted that I had been feeling fine, then my son spoke, ideas began to flood my mind, my breathing pattern changed, and muscles started tensing in my body. And I observed that this phenomenon had risen up, and I knew that it would pass away. And it did, soon enough. I kept the balance of my mind, and my gut tension eased and I continued to enjoy the day with my son. The days when I would have been thrown for a loop and miserable for hours are well behind me now.

Of course, this is just one instance, and there have been other moments this past week when simply observing was not enough. In those cases, I could begin a few minutes of Anapana meditation and simply observe my breath. It immediately caused my mind to slow down and it was like I was reinforcing to my mind, "you are a great tool, but you are not the driver of my life. We're not going down that road today." And I observed that my mind relaxed. This whole process took maybe three minutes, and I didn't have to close my eyes or go into some kind of trance or anything. Just a simple observation of my breath as I was walking, nothing more. How very practical. How very handy. How very helpful.

So, Vipassana has made a lasting impression on me and given me some very valuable skills, ones that I use daily. It has positively impacted many areas of my life. I'm not only better as a single man, but I'm also a better consultant, friend, and father. My sense of well-being has increased a great deal, and I am more at peace. Was all this worth 10 days cut off from the outside world? You bet.

If any of these past few posts has intrigued you, I highly recommend you check out the Vipassana website and consider attending a course yourself. It is free, and it is a great way to spend some time getting to know the person who doesn't have any problems - the real you. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Vipassana Meditation II

In my last post, I explained a little bit about what Vipassana meditation is, as well as what some of the day-to-day experience is like when you take a 10-day course. Today I'll go into more depth and share some of the benefits I received (and continue to receive) from this experience.

First, I'll start out by stating that I don't consider myself to be a mystic by any stretch of the imagination. Skeptic, sure :-) But, I have an open mind, and I rely a great deal on personal references. If my friend Jerry said this would be a worthwhile endeavour, well, that was good enough for me.

The course began innocuously enough. After a light vegetarian evening meal (the only supper of the whole course), we (all 50 of us) trooped up the stairs to the meditation hall to our assigned square cushions on our respective side (males on left, females on right). After hearing some chanting in a foreign language (Pali), we were given our instructions: direct our attention to the triangular area bounded by our nasal passages and the top of our upper lip, and simply observe our breathing. If we felt our mind drift, gently bring our attention back to observing our breath through our nose. We did this for about 45 minutes, then off to bed. 4 a.m. comes early you know.

Before I knew it, I was hearing the wakeup chime at a little after four. We all made our way back to the meditation hall to begin our first meditation sitting of the day — for two hours. What were we to do? Observe our breath through our nose, and refocus anytime we noticed our mind drift. We practiced this for 10 hours on Day 1. On Day two, we were to be making sure that our minds were drifting for a max of 5 minutes, preferably much less. We were to do this for another 10 hours. I remember thinking in the late afternoon of day two, "gee, I hope I didn't waste 10 days of my life here. This is kind of silly." I wasn't thinking that by day 4.

After 3½ days of observing our nasal breathing (called Anapana meditation), we were now ready to begin learning Vipassana meditation. I did notice that my mind was quite a bit sharper and more aware, and I could catch myself drifting within about 10-15 seconds. I would need every bit of that concentration and awareness in the coming days.

Vipassana meditation consists of observing sensations on the body. At first, we were to direct our conscious awareness to a small patch of skin, say, 2-3 inches square, and simply observe the sensations there. It could be the atmosphere, itching, tingling, throbbing, electricity, clothing, any sensation at all. We just needed to focus our attention on this sensation, whatever it was. We were to observe it objectively, with equanimity, and understand the impermanence (Pali: anicca) of what we were experiencing. After several seconds of sensing whatever was in this area, we were to shift our "square of focus" over a few inches and sense what was there. We were to continue doing this, from head to toe, until we had covered our entire body. Once that was done, we were to start over, from head to toe. For 10 hours.

Oh, and starting on Day 4, there were 3 hour-long sessions of "Strong Determination" in which we were not to change our posture. No major movement, which meant no opening of our eyes, no moving our arms, hands, legs, or feet. I decided to make every session one of strong determination, so this caused me some additional discomfort, which turned slowly into pain. It can be quite painful to sit still for hours on end every day.

On day 6, we were to move back up the body once we reached our toes instead of starting over again at the head. I was kind of cheating a bit on day 6, splitting my focus between what I was sensing, and working through a bunch of planning I had for various projects I was working on. My clarity of mind was incredible, and I was quickly solving numerous issues which had previously stumped me. I remember walking around outside on one of our short breaks with a huge smile on my face, thinking "this was so worth coming here!" In two days, I had done about 6 months of work in my head.

By day 8, we were now alternating our body sensing from the piecemeal approach to one of full body sweeps, and back to piecemeal. I was also in quite a bit of physical pain from sitting still for over a week. What I observed, though, is that each pain seemed to be tied somehow to various thoughts and issues I carried around with me. If I stayed focused on any one painful area long enough, a particular memory from my past would surface, and I could observe it objectively and let it go. And that pain would change as well, sometimes disappearing entirely.

Day 8 was also when I was in so much physical pain that at one point I thought I would throw up. My right knee and calf was in agony. Nobody held a gun to my head telling me I couldn't move, yet I felt compelled to continue sitting still and to work with the pain, not try to avoid it. I dealt with many memories of Deb's illness and death on day 8, and by the end of the day, the sharp pain had dulled to a strong ache, and I felt so much better about Deb's death. It was like I was finally able to see things completely objectively, like it happened to someone else.

Day 8 also marked the end of any breaks. From the moment we were awake until the moment we drifted off to sleep, we were to be focusing on our body sensations and aware of what we were experiencing there. Day 9, we were now to be sensing inside our bodies as well as outside. Lots more past events to deal with using this technique, but I felt very comfortable with the whole process. It actually felt very good to finally have a structured way to deal with all my past experiences.

Day 10 was a "shock absorber" day. The vow of silence was lifted at about 10 am, and the meditation schedule was cut in half. We could now mingle with the women on the course, and we could share our experiences with each other. It was nice to finally get to know some of these people I had been furtively observing while the course was going on. They actually had personalities :-) They weren't just shuffling zombies after all.

By 06:30 a.m. on day 11, the course was over. We stayed on a bit more for breakfast and cleanup of the facility, and then we were driving back home. So much to think about and reflect on during that drive. It was a fitting end to be physically journeying back home after such a long, tough, and rewarding mental journey.

Next post, I'll finish up this short series with my thoughts and observations about the course and what made the most impression on me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Vipassana Meditation

I've just experienced a remarkable 10-day long Vipassana meditation course. What is Vipassana? I'll let their website explain:

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living.

This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.

Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

The scientific laws that operate one's thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.

It should be clear, then, why I as a widower was interested in attending. I wanted to undergo the mental healing promised by this technique.

I first heard about this course from a friend I made while I was in Ecuador last year. He really didn't say much about it, other than that it was 10 days of total silence, that it was challenging, and that it was very worthwhile. He seemed to have gotten a lot out of it, and he recommended that I look more into it. Ever since then, I have been trying to fit it into my schedule. It just so happened that the past week and a half was a good fit for me.

And what a week and a half that was! First off, I wouldn't consider myself a morning person. If I can drag myself into the office by about 10 a.m., I consider that a good day ;-) Also, I really needed caffeine to get myself going, and stay going. And I know just about every vegetarian joke out there ;-) My favourite: "I didn't fight my way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables." So I really wasn't sure how I'd do getting up at 4 a.m. every day, no caffeine, and only two vegetarian meals a day.

Well, I quickly adapted to the new schedule, and my break with caffeine actually occurred 4 days before the course began — I knew the course would be challenging enough without going through caffeine withdrawal simultaneously. And the food quality was excellent, even if it was just breakfast and lunch. They did allow new students (those on the course for the first time) to eat some fruit at around 5 p.m., so I'd have a banana and orange and some milk to take the edge off. I did lose weight though &mdash about 4-5 pounds, nothing major.

Did I experience that promised mental healing? Yes, and much, much more. I'll explain fully in my next post...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

No Posts For A Bit

I'll be away for the next 11 days on a silent meditation course. I should have some interesting stories to tell upon my return. Cheers!

The Rollercoaster III

In my last post, Dr Paul explained in his book MindOS™ - "The Operating System of the Human Mind" that anger and anxiety are the roots of our poor self-esteem as widow/ers, and that the remedy is to be assertive, face our fears, and work to get our needs met. There are several ways to respond to both anger and anxiety, and in this last post of the series, I'll explain the results of each.

Anger is neither good nor bad — it is a signal that something is wrong — our needs are not being met. Dr Paul explains that there are only three possible responses for anger [pg 161]:

One response is to make no decision and sink into depression; in other words, do nothing to get our needs met. A second response is to act aggressively to get our needs met at someone else's expense in a win/lose scenario. Acting aggressively will cause ourselves more hurt, which will cause more anger, resulting in more aggression in a vicious cycle. The last response is to be assertive and work out win/win solutions to meeting our needs. This is the path to maturity and adds to our well-being.

Likewise for anxiety, there are only three possible responses [pg 183]:

Again, anxiety is a signal that something is wrong — we are harbouring fear. One way to respond to this signal is to be impulsive or avoidant and is the passive way to respond. This includes actions like:

  • over-eating

  • over-spending

  • addictions

  • drug abuse

  • workaholism

  • being busy just to be busy

Another response is to act like a victim and think that the world is out to get you (win/lose). This includes regret about the past and wishing that you controlled the uncontrollable (like wanting to have life return to the way it was when our spouse was alive). Essentially, this means trying to dump your anxiety into someone else's boundary instead of working to resolve it yourself. In widowhood, this commonly manifests by thinking "if only I had done something different, my spouse wouldn't have died and everything would be better now." When we verbalize this to others, we're trying to unload our anxiety onto them, and we lose their support. This causes further loss when they pull away from us, resulting in another vicious cycle.

The way out of anxiety is through courage by facing our fears. When we do what is right even when we are afraid to do so, this restores our confidence and builds our trust in ourselves and others. It is the other half of building positive energy back into our lives.

Does this make sense? Ever since I read this book, my thinking has totally changed. I can now catch myself getting angry or anxious, and I know now to work in positive ways to face my fears and work towards getting my needs met. So, I go to work on that guy in the mirror. Each time I succeed, even if just a little, I build my self-confidence and improve my quality of life.

I believe this perspective on the grief roller coaster is the major reason why I no longer feel the pain of grief. It is up to me to ensure my needs are being met, and it is also up to me to overcome my fears about the future and learn to trust others (and life!) again.

I hope you find this map as helpful as I do. It is one of the major power-tools in my grief recovery toolbox.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Rollercoaster II

In my last post titled The Rollercoaster, I described the full spectrum of emotional experience we go through as grievers. Tonight I'll complete the picture by explaining how to go from the low energy states to higher ones. It makes perfect sense when you think about it.

What causes the low energy states of anger and anxiety? In a word: stress. The stress can come from outside ourselves or from inside our mind. Let's look at another chart [pg 150]:

According to Dr Paul in his book MindOS™ - "The Operating System of the Human Mind", when the stress is external, anger comes from hurt, and anxiety comes from loss. Both impact our self-esteem. Is it any wonder, then, that as widow/ers, we suffer such a tremendous hit to our self-esteem? A double-whammy of hurt and loss, right between our eyes. Under normal circumstances, if we have a high-enough personal boundary, it can ward off external hurt and loss and can minimize the damage to our self-esteem. However, I believe that everyone is deeply affected by the loss of their spouse, regardless of how well-defined their personal boundary is. The stress is simply too overwhelming.

So, you might be thinking, it is all well and good to know this stuff, but how can I use it to feel better? How do I transform anger into well-being and anxiety into confidence?

First, it helps to understand that once stress is inside our boundary, it manifests in one of two ways: anger stems from our needs not being met, and anxiety arises from a loss of confidence and/or trust [pg 153]:

So, we see that the remedy for anger is to get our needs met, and the remedy for anxiety is to face our fears. I'm going to suggest that in the first year or so of grief, this is easier said than done!

Now that our spouse is dead, we face a huge laundry list of unmet needs. For example:

  • Love

  • Friends

  • Income

  • Freedom

  • Creativity

  • Leisure

And our confidence in ourselves, as well as our trust in God and the very foundations of the world, is shattered. Still, it is helpful to know what steps we need to take to feel better. The journey of the bereaved is one of slowly facing our fears and working towards getting our needs met. Like eating an elephant, we do this one little bite at a time.

For my next post, I'll conclude by showing the only possible reactions to both anger and anxiety, and that should complete our map of the roller coaster. When the next big downswing comes, you'll know exactly where you are. Where you go from there is up to you.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Rollercoaster

If you've been grieving for any length of time, you probably relate to the title of this post. One minute, you feel yourself plunging down into the depths of despair, wondering how low you can go. The next day, you can feel pretty good, them something goes well and you feel ecstatic for a bit, then something else happens and you're plunging down again. Another analogy is feeling like being bounced around in a big emotional clothes dryer. Sound familiar?

Would it be helpful if you had a map to this rollercoaster? It might be helpful to know when the next big drop is coming, as well as the loop-de-loop around the corner...

I'm about half-way through a very interesting book by Dr Paul Dobransky called MindOS™ - "The Operating System of the Human Mind". He's got lots of very interesting diagrams in there, and several stood out very clearly to me as I recognized what I was looking at — the Grief Rollercoaster!

Dr Paul talks at length about the Spectrum of Negative Emotional Energy. Here's his chart [pg 142]:

He explains that anger and anxiety are opposite emotions, and that other negative emotions are a combination of the two. The benefit to knowing this is that we can learn how to master all negative emotions — we just need to know how to master the two ends of the spectrum, anger and anxiety.

We can learn how to transform these two negative extremes into positive emotional energy, the two ends of which are well-being and confidence [pg 145]:

Now when I saw that chart, I saw instantly the sides of that emotional clothes dryer I had been tumbling around inside of for many months. It made sense to me as I looked at it and thought back over my many trips on the roller coaster. One minute I was feeling anger at my situation, then I did something and had a bit more well-being, then I plunged down into anxiety, then I did something else and felt a wonderful sense of confidence. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

In my next post, I'll explain the causes of both anger and anxiety, as well as what we need to do to transform our negative emotional energies into positive ones.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Why Grief Hurts II

In my last post, I briefly described some of John Bowlby's work as a behaviorist and began to explain my theory as to why grief hurts. In this post, I'll conclude my theory and solicit your comments.

Has anyone ever asked you when you're going to "move on" with your life? For most widow/ers, this suggestion often serves to infuriate the griever and reinforce a sense of helplessness. And where do people get off making such comments anyway?

Let's take their perspective for a moment, by way of a storm analogy. If a hurricane or tornado rips your house apart, you can't safely stay there anymore. If a friend happened to stop by several weeks later and found you glumly skulking about the ruins of your home, the "when do you plan to move on?" question would certainly be merited.

Much as we like to believe in free will and freedom of choice, reality shows that we are creatures of habit. The majority of our life is spent on autopilot. How much of your morning is thoroughly routinized? Do you think much about how you brush your teeth? Eat breakfast? Dress? Go to work? Habits are shortcuts -- patterns so ingrained that we no longer have to think about them.

We run on hundreds, if not thousands, of habits every day. When we were married, hundreds of these habits involved interaction with our spouse. We saw something and thought right away, gee, s/he would love that. Our boss said something to us, and we couldn't wait to get home to share it with our mate.

Now that our spouse is gone, the well-meaning friend comes by some months later and sees, not a house devastated by storms, but a creature of habit with tons of broken shortcuts. The ruined walls, trashed furniture, gaping holes in the roof, these are our old ways of mentally dealing with the world. Of course they want us to "move on." Think of how you would react to seeing someone living in physical ruins. In grief, we haunt the mental ruins of our old life, and this behaviour is blatantly apparent to our friends and relatives.

As I explained in my previous post, we are not so different from our ancestors of 50 thousand years ago. Back then, the loss of our spouse could very easily prove fatal to us, and even today as explained by Bowlby. So, it is my belief that our body is very aware of our predicament and purposefully misfires our nervous system every time we try to rely on our old habits.

What happens when we injure ourselves physically? Do we brush our teeth the same? Dress the same? Eat the same? Go to work the same? No, our physical habits adapt and change to our new injured circumstances. Likewise, I believe that our body causes us physical pain so that we are forced to change our mental habits. Grief hurts so bad and so intensely that it is physically impossible for us to live our old life. We have no choice but to change.

Does this make sense? I very rarely feel the physical pain associated with grief anymore, and I believe it is because I have completely changed all my mental thought habits related to my old married life. And I notice that when I do feel the pain of grief, I can feel my mind trying to run in the familiar groove of an old thought pattern that is no longer relevant to my new life as a single parent.

I'm interested to hear what you, the reader, have to say about this. Whether this resonates well with you, or you think I'm right out to lunch, I'd appreciate it if you would click "Post A Comment" and let me know your thoughts. Thanks!