Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gifts From Grief

Is there a silver lining to grief? Certainly that first year we're not interested in hearing about any so-called benefits of grieving. Pretty much all we're looking for from others is an acknowledgment of the tremendous pain we're experiencing, and hopefully some advice on how to find our way out. But once we have worked through a good deal of our memories and changed many of our habits, the pain lessens and we can begin to see that we have learned a few beneficial things through this whole gut-wrenching process.

Please don't misunderstand — I'm not saying that we should be happy that our spouse is dead, or that, because of what we have learned, the death of our spouse is worth it. That would be absurd. Unless you are reading this from jail, you likely had nothing to do with the death of your loved one, and in fact probably had a hand in caregiving or otherwise trying to keep them alive. So, their death was not a deliberate choice of ours.

But they died nonetheless. So I see nothing wrong with trying to find some benefit to going through such a hellish experience. And when we do find such a benefit, in no way does this diminish the love we shared with them.

Bob Livingstone wrote a very interesting article for Beliefnet that he has given me permission to share with you. He discovered a number of gifts while working through the loss of his mother. I hope you find it as interesting as I did:

The Hidden Benefit of Grief: Why It Doesn't Need to Hurt Forever

One man learns how to work through the pain of his mother's death and discovers six new gifts.

By Bob Livingstone LCSW

I was taught, as most of us were, that facing the death of a loved one is an action that should be avoided at all costs because it would cause too much pain. This hurting could only overwhelm you to the point where you couldn’t function.

I learned that this need to deny and avoid our own mourning causes physical and emotional complications that profoundly affect the quality of our lives.

I recently discovered the hidden benefit of grief: why it doesn’t need to hurt forever and I want to share my story with you now.

My mother died two years ago almost to this date. When I was an adolescent and young adult, my connection with her was rocky. We didn't get along because we had no patience or tolerance for each other. There was also a distinct lack of trust on both our parts that contributed to a chaotic relationship.

But all that dissension faded away as we found ways to repair the broken mother-son bond. When the time I reached my forties, my mother, her sixties, we actively pursued fixing what was broken.

We discovered a way to communicate that resolved wounds suffered in the distant past. We also both grew personally and emotionally. There was a willingness to be accountable for our own stuff.

When she died suddenly from heart failure, I was devastated, heartbroken and raw. I never thought I would recover from such relentless pain, but I did work through this loss and acquired new gifts.

Those gifts were:

  1. The deep anguish that her death created led me to understand emotionally, intellectually and spiritually how connected we were. Being in touch with this connection taught me how wonderful this bond was and how it was to be cherished.

  2. This connection opened up the door that allowed me to feel closer to my wife, family and friends. I now understood if I could deal with the intense anguish from my mother’s death, I could now face any pain that would arise in a close, meaningful relationship. This allowed me to drop my guard and not allow fear to rule my interactions.

  3. During the early stages of grief, I would focus on memories of my mother while I ran five miles while listening to music. I almost always listened to Rosanne Cash's beautiful CD, Black Cadillac. She was singing about the deaths of her mother, father and step mother. The song I was Watching You really resonated because I feel like my mother's always watching over me. I learned that by facing the pain directly, I could not only feel the void, but the beauty that life brings. To experience my body moving with the rhythm of the music and gazing at the bright blue sky while mourning my mom's death was astonishing.

  4. Successfully mourning my mother's death gave me a new sense of self confidence. I now believed that I could work through any trauma that life would throw me.

  5. I now clearly understood what successfully grieving meant. It means there is no unfinished business, no worrying about what I could have or should have done differently, it meant there was an absence of a dark cloud over my head. It meant that I believed my mother lived a full and complete life. It meant that I was not burdened by her and her spirit was not worried about me.

  6. I learned how spiritually healing a gut wrenching cry could be. When I was a young man, I was afraid to allow all the emotion that comes with a loss to be released. When I was crying while exercising or sedentary, I felt the pain erupt from my stomach, up through towards my throat that was aching while a massive stream of tears fell down my face. This made my mother’s death seem real and it defined the term letting go for me.

  7. There are experiences that we long to have with our loved ones. Sometimes these experiences don’t ever happen or the timing is off when the opportunity arrives. One of the women from my emotional healing class at the San Francisco County Jail said, “Many have told me that their mothers die while they are in prison. I pray that this doesn’t happen. When I see my mom again, I want to wash her feet and pamper her. She deserves better from me than she has received up to this point.” We all wish for that moment when we can gaze into our loved ones eyes and know that we are connected, cherished and adored forever. It is a time when the giving and taking is mutual and no one is keeping score. When and if this moment does arrive, it is fleeting and will lose its strength soon. Life is always moving forward even if you don’t want it to. I learned that when you do have the opportunity to bond with someone in this manner, don’t hesitate to go for it. I also learned that missed opportunities are a big part of life, but there is also the possibility of having infinite opportunities to experience all kinds of love.

Dedicated to Ida

Psychotherapist Bob Livingstone is a featured contributor to,,, and He is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Body-Mind-Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise (Pegasus Books, Sept. 2007). For more information visit

Friday, March 28, 2008

Complicated Grief Recovery Coaching

I've been reading recently about complicated grief — the kind of grief where bereaved people get stuck in their grieving, swallowed up by their feelings, and overwhelmed by their experience. Years can go by with their grief getting worse, not better. Their lives fall apart. They become like ghosts - mere shells of their former selves. This can happen for a number of reasons, including multiple losses, traumatic loss, or anger and/or fear related to their dead loved one.

Now that I've been bereaved for two years (tomorrow), I've met a number of widow/ers whom I suspect are suffering from complicated grief. I want to help them in their bereavement as well, even if it is just to point them toward a helpful reference.

In researching this topic, I stumbled upon an online grief recovery coach, Paul Roberts. While he has not suffered from the death of a spouse, he has certainly had to come to terms with multiple, tragic losses, all piled on top of each other. Like me, he quickly discovered that there is lots of room for improvement as far as grief recovery goes here in North America. After he found some new paradigms and Grief Recovery Tools, he too was able to quickly heal from his complicated grief, in his case over the course of a single month.

Paul has an online grief recovery website,, where you can sign up for free information about how to heal from complicated grief. The following article is one of a series, and you would probably find it very useful to hear the whole series in order to understand the difference between simple and complicated grief. If you would prefer to listen than read, the audio version of this article is available here:

If you're going to "solve" a serious human problem like complicated grief, you need truly useful tools.

By useful tools, I mean this:

  • First you need a good model (or theory) of what's causing the problem

  • Then you need practical strategies based on the model that actually WORK so that people feel better quickly and predictably.

After 9/11, the death of my father, the suicide of my brother, the suicide of my older daughter, the breakup of my relationship and then the death of my mother (all in less than four years) I found that none of the literature, or support groups, or professionals I worked with had a clue about how to fix me so I could be a functional adult again.

That's because most grief advice makes sense for simple grief, but doesn't make sense for complicated grief.

It was only when I looked outside of the grief recovery community that I found both a model, and the tools, that let me take back my life - in about a month of focused inner work.

So... when I share this model of human personality structure with you - and the effect complicated grief has on the human personality - please don't be confused. I'm not saying that this model is TRUE. The map is not the territory.

But I am saying that this model is USEFUL. And because it is useful, I want you to understand the model, and how I have applied the model to create an experience of grief recovery - for myself first, and also for my clients.

The Model I Use

The model I use is derived from the groundbreaking work of a psychologist and consciousness researcher named Victor Vernon Woolf. Woolf has developed a complex theory of consciousness he calls Holodynamics. It's very dense and frankly difficult to understand.

I've created a much simpler model based on his ideas that is easy to understand. When I've shared it with my clients they've understood it right away, so I'm confident you can understand it too. (As always, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me).

This model says you have a central controlling personality - your normal adult self. And supporting your normal adult self, you have a number of sub-personalities which can come to the forefront of your consciousness during different times in your life, in an appropriate way, to help you live your life.

For example, if you're a parent, one of your sub-personalities is "father" or "mother". When you're in "father" or "mother" mode you're going to think, feel and behave in a certain way in order to parent your child. You have another sub-personality called "worker" or "employee" or "boss", that thinks, feels and behaves in a different way in order to get some sort of job done in the workplace. And you have yet another sub-personality that comes to the forefront when you're engaged in intimacy with a partner.

We actually have many sub-personalities that come to the front of our consciousness, or recede to the back, depending on where we are or what's going on. One way to illustrate this is to consider the rare but very real experience of multiple personality disorder (MPD). (One famous case described a woman known as "Sybil" in both a book and a movie). Someone with MPD doesn't have a central controlling adult self. Instead, many different sub-personalities, some of them very destructive and immature - simply take over the mind in a chaotic way.

The fact is, we ALL have some sub-personalities that are immature and destructive. Said another way, we are ALL capable of childish and immature thoughts, feelings and behavior. When someone feels reasonably healthy and OK in the mind, those childish and immature sub-personalities don't run the person's life, though.

However- when someone is overwhelmed with complicated grief, that's exactly what is going on. One or more childish and immature sub-personalities has taken over the person's life. Those sub-personalities are controlling way too much of the person's consciousness. They are creating an ongoing stream of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that do not reflect a healthy adult perspective, but rather the perspective of a wounded and dysfunctional child.

Despair, overwhelming anxiety, alienation, confusion, mental fog, the feeling totally misunderstood, a loss of identity, rage, guilt, shame, or fear: In the aftermath of a loss, these kinds of thoughts and feelings can come to dominate someones life, making it into a living hell.

That is why complicated grief is so very different from simple grief. That's why people who are suffering from complicated grief don't feel like "themselves". They're not themselves!

My daughter's death was actually the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back in my own life. Coming fast on the heels of these other traumatic events, it was more than I could bear. My adult self receded into the background of my own mind - and instead my mind was dominated by a cluster of sub-personalities that had the characteristics of a child traumatized by some terrible event (like a kid coming out of the Holocaust). I was seeing the world - and life itself - through wounded child's eyes. I felt that the world was simply a terrifying place - and that new terror might emerge at any moment in some unpredictable way.

It was more than post-traumatic stress syndrome - though PSTD was certainly a part of the experience I was having. It was the experiential fact that my mind was being dominated by these wounded, dysfunctional children - these sub-personalities I could not see, much less control.

And because complicated grief doesn't just get better with time - I went through this experience for three years.

How The Model I Use Drives The Work I Do

If you're experiencing complicated grief, something similar is happening in your mind - though of course the specifics will be different than mine. The reason I took the time to describe the model I use (notice it has NOTHING to do with stages of grief) is because this model is what drives my strategy for effective grief recovery work as a grief recovery coach.

In this work, I actually lead my clients so they can get in touch with their wounded sub-personalities directly. We allow each wounded sub-personality to share it's perspectives with us. And once we have found the core need of the wounded sub-personality, we guide it through a rapid, powerful yet gentle process so that it can become transformed into a more mature version of itself.

It's truly amazing to experience. Most importantly, once a person has done this work, he or she can actually LIVE with the honest sadness over their loss, and process that sadness from the adult self, and integrate this loss into the fabric of their life experience.

The fact is, I don't heal the client. Rather, I set up an inner environment so that the client can actually heal themselves by following my coaching and directions. And it all flows out of understanding how complicated grief affects our personality structure.

Does it work? My experience is that it works better than anything else I've ever seen or heard.

In the words of one of my clients, "I was able to do in 4 sessions what may have taken years to do." Another said, "Paul's coaching took me out of the quicksand onto dry land…giving me back my power to act without the weight of my grief and losses." (To read their complete testimonials, click HERE).

Here's the bottom line: If you're suffering from complicated grief, you don't have to suffer forever.

And if you're not sure about your grief experience, but would just like to get some feedback, feel free to CONTACT ME. I'll give you honest feedback on your situation, and will respect your choice to get help or not - from me or anyone else.

My best to you,

Paul Roberts
© 2007-8 Paul Roberts. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Natural And Normal Grief Responses

If you are reading this and your grief is relatively new, I am very sorry for your loss. I remember that for me the first few months had a very unreal quality to them, like I was disconnected from the real world somehow, and I had no idea what I was in for. I wish I had seen this list posted on WidowNet:

This information has been provided by a hospice to help answer questions people have after losing a loved one.


  • Feeling emotionally numb.

  • Knowing that the death has occurred, but having difficulty believing that the death has really happened.

  • Feeling tightness in the throat or heaviness in the chest or in the pit of the stomach.

  • Having a loss of appetite or a desire to eat more than usual.

  • Having a desire to smoke, drink, or use drugs (especially tranquilizers) in a greater amount than before.

  • Feeling restless and looking for activity and finding it difficult to concentrate and complete tasks.

  • Having difficulty sleeping, waking early, and often dreaming of your loved one.

  • Being overly concerned with your health and even developing symptoms similar to those of your loved one.

  • Feeling exhausted and lacking in energy.

  • Feeling low at times of birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.

  • Spending money on things usually not purchased.

  • Feeling preoccupied with financial concerns.

  • Telling and retelling things about your loved one and the experience of his or her death.

  • Talking things over with the deceased person.

  • Feeling mood changes over the slightest things.

  • Feeling guilty for what was said or not said or for not having done enough for your loved one.

  • Being angry or irritated at the wrong person or the wrong circumstance or at the world.

  • Feeling intensely angry at your loved one for leaving you.

  • Having difficulty making decisions on your own.

  • Sensing your loved one's presence, believing you hear his/her voice or expecting him/her to come back.

  • Assuming mannerisms or traits of your loved ones.

  • Feeling as though life doesn't have any meaning.

  • Not wanting to be with people or having difficulty initiating contact with others.

  • Feeling self-pity and not feeling needed.

  • Crying at unexpected times.

These are natural and normal grief responses. Crying and expressing your feelings to others can be helpful. Living through the grief experience and then adjusting to a new life take time. The length of time needed is different for every person.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Somatic-Emotional State of Grief


affecting or characteristic of the body as opposed to the mind or spirit

I've written before about why grief hurts, and specifically on why we feel such intense pain when our spouse dies. As I understand things, pain is a powerful way for our body to communicate with us. Of course, in the middle of bereavement, we just want the pain to stop! So we start looking for Grief Recovery Tools to find out how to stop the pain. My theory is that we feel pain until such time as we change all the habits related to our past life as a married person. Easier said than done...

I recently stumbled upon the following article which does a great job of explaining the mind-body connection to our habits, and it also gives some good advice on how to change those habits and our posture so that we can change the habitual patterns of our mind, and therefore reduce our pain:

Your somatic-emotional state at any given time is made up to a large extent, of a specific habitual recipe of biochemical and neuromuscular activities that you tend to perform without conscious awareness. Bringing awareness to and regaining a natural relaxed control over the activity of your entire system affords you the ability to positively affect your emotions, and your overall health and sense of well being - your somatic-emotional state. Your psychological state on the other hand is usually deemed to be mainly dependent on what takes place inside your head.

Many of us, over the course of time, lose the ability to fully communicate with our body, and we lose the ability to be fully aware of the communication of the body. It is the communication patterns of the body that lead to our emotional state, and our verbal communication patterns. When you limit your ability to communicate somatically and be aware of your somatic conversation, you also limit your ability to feel your emotions, communicate verbally, and be aware of your verbal conversation. Of course your overall state of health and well-being will be affected as well.

The greater your ability to be aware of and embody a full potential range of somatic communication, the greater your ability to communicate verbally and "understand" what you are feeling.

One of many possible ways to think about how we experience life is the following:

Body + Language = Emotional Experience

What we mean here is: The overall condition, usage, and awareness of one's body, plus the way in which one uses language to describe one's experience, go together to make up one's CURRENT emotional experience of self, another person, and or an event.

1. Change the condition, usage, and awareness of your body and you will change the way in which you use language to describe what has or is transpiring, which in turn will change your overall emotional experience of the issue being considered. The six somatic "avenues" that we find most accessible in changing the condition, use, and awareness of the body are,

  1. Posture,

  2. Balance and carriage of the neck and head,

  3. Movement and Flexibility. (This includes muscular holding patterns and micro-muscular rocking movements),

  4. Breath,

  5. Facial Expressions,

  6. Eye movements that occur when thinking about what you want to say, and what you feel.

These variables will be of primary importance in determining

  1. One's emotional experience.

  2. The language used to explain one's experience, and

  3. One's ability to be solution oriented.

Each person systematically and habitually, orchestrates these variables depending on how they perceive the events and relationships they are dealing with. Making the "correct" changes to these variables will alter the way one perceives what is taking place, and the changes or solutions one believes they are capable of making.

2. Change the way in which you describe your experience, and you will affect and change the condition of your body, which in turn will change your overall emotional experience. We can describe events differently simply by changing the speed, rhythm, tone, volume, and pauses used in our description.

3. Changing one's emotional experience, will affect and change the condition of one's body, which in turn will affect and change the language one uses to describe one's experience. Emotion consists of language AND body - a system that is coherent at a deeper level. When the emotional state changes there is a concurrent change in the body, and in the use of language (including one's thought processes). If the way we use our body changes and there is no shift in our language usage/thinking, then the bodily changes we experience have not reached our emotions. In such cases long term change is unlikely. If our language usage/thinking changes and there is no matching bodily shift, then our new "ideas" are not having an emotional impact on us. Once again, in such an instance long term change is unlikely. When the emotions truly change, you will notice a change in the body AND in language.

I'd be interested to hear your comments.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Zero Limits Basic Principles

What happens in your life is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.
— Joe Vitale

I've written at some length about a Hawaiian healing method called Ho'oponopono, and the more I use it, the more I like it. Especially in the context of Grief Recovery, I like how the simple expression of "I love you; I'm sorry; please forgive me; thank you," encapsulates so much of what I need to heal on a daily basis.

These simple yet profound words are based on some solid principles. Joe Vitale's Zero Limits explain these principles on pages 199-201, and I hope you find them intriguing. When we grieve, so often we don't have the wherewithal to remember new-fangled fancy mantras or breathing exercises or visualization techniques. But we can always remember to say "I love you."

Zero Limits Basic Principles

1. You don't have a clue what is going on.
It is impossible to be aware of everything happening in and around you, consciously or unconsciously. Your body and mind are regulating themselves right now, without you being aware of it. And numerous invisible signals are in the air, from radio waves to thought forms, which you have no conscious sense of at all. You are indeed co-creating your own reality right now, but it is happening unconsciously, without your conscious knowledge or control. This is why you can think positive thoughts all you like and still be broke. Your conscious mind isn't the creator.

2. You don't have control over everything.
Obviously, if you don't know everything that is happening, you can't control it all. It's an ego trip to think you can make the world do your bidding. Since your ego can't see much of what is going on in the world right now, letting your ego decide what is best for you isn't wise.You have choice, but you don't have control. You can use your conscious mind to begin to choose what you would prefer to experience, but you have to let go of whether you manifest it or not, or how, or when. Surrender is key.

3. You can heal whatever comes your way.
Whatever appears in your life, no matter how it got there, is up for healing simply because it's now on your radar. The assumption here is that if you can feel it, you can heal it. If you can see it in someone else, and it bothers you, then it's up for healing. Or as I'm told Oprah once said, "If you can spot it, you've got it." You may have no idea why it's in your life or how it got there, but you can let it go because you're now aware of it. The more you heal what comes up, the clearer you are to manifest what you prefer, because you will be freeing stuck energy to use for other matters.

4. You are 100 percent responsible for all you experience.
What happens in your life is not your fault, but it is your responsibility. The concept of personal responsibility goes beyond what you say, do, and think. It includes what others say, do, and think that shows up in your life. If you take complete responsibility for all that appears in your life, then when someone surfaces with a problem, then it is your problem, too. This ties in to principle three, which states you can heal whatever comes your way. In short, you can't blame anyone or anything for your current reality. All you can do is take responsibility for it, which means accept it, own it, and love it.The more you heal what comes up, the more you get in tune with the source.

5. Your ticket to zero limits is saying the phrase "I love you."
The pass that gets you peace beyond all understanding, from healing to manifestation, is the simple phrase "I love you." Saying it to the Divine cleans everything in you so you can experience the miracle of this moment: zero limits. The idea is to love everything. Love the extra fat, the addiction, the problem child or neighbor or spouse; love it all. Love transmutes the stuck energy and frees it. Saying "I love you" is the open sesame to experience the Divine.

6. Inspiration is more important than intention.
Intention is a toy of the mind; inspiration is a directive from the Divine. At some point you'll surrender and start listening, rather than begging and waiting. Intention is trying to control life based on the limited view of the ego; inspiration is receiving a message from the Divine and then acting on it. Intention works and brings results; inspiration works and brings miracles.Which do you prefer?

I've heard some misconceptions about grieving from some people who have seen The Secret. Instead of asking, "How did I attract the death of my spouse into my life?" we can now see that it is more helpful to say, "It is not my fault that my spouse is dead, but I am 100 percent responsible for my reaction to his/her death." By taking total responsibility, we are now in a position of power to change our reaction. We can't take complete responsibility and simultaneously remain a victim of tragedy. Responsibility is the path to recovery and healing. And peace.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

When a Loved One Dies

I am very conscious of the fact that, because I have fully recovered from Deb's death, the articles I write may not be of much help to someone who is newly bereaved. I am quite far removed from my early grieving experiences, and besides, I've been spending quite a lot of time recently in cleaning my memories ;-)

I'm always on the lookout for articles that speak directly to someone whose partner died recently, and if that is your current circumstance, I hope that you will find the following article to be helpful:

When a Loved One Dies

At some point in time, we will all have the experience of a loved one dying. The death may be abrupt like a car accident or sudden illness. It may take place over a longer period of time when your loved one has a long-term illness such as cancer. There is nothing to prepare ourselves for such a loss. There is nothing you can read, no words that can be said that will reduce your pain immediately after the death.

You will feel hopeless, despondent and numb. You will feel that no one really understands what you are going through and feel isolated from friends and family. You will be amazed that life for others goes on as usual. People go to work, children go to school, and the sun rises in the morning and sets at night. You will go through periods of time where you feel a huge disconnect between yourself and the rest of the planet.

These feelings you experience during the initial stages of grief will devastate you to the point that you don’t want to participate in regular activities that give you pleasure. You will also feel like being sedentary, sitting on the couch, mindlessly watching television, but paying no real attention what show is on.

Eventually you will become tired of sitting around all the time. You will hear a voice inside you that you need to move to the next step of your grieving process.

That next step is moving your body.

There is a ton of research that indicates that physical exercise improves your physical health, decreases feelings of depression and anxiety, improves self-esteem, reduces stress and increases mental and physical strength. Some studies indicate that your endorphins can kick in after only fifteen minutes of exercise and at the point you can experience a sense of well being.

Exercising is certainly a healthy way to deal with the death of a loved one. A short walk, run, bike ride or other aerobic activity will help you face and work through trauma.

What is going to help me get off the couch and into an exercise program?

1. Become aware that it is normal to feel overwhelmed with sadness, confusion, anger, and deep despondency immediately after a loved one dies. This sense of overwhelm and shock will cause you to be sedentary much of the time during the beginning stage of grief, but you don’t have to feel guilty about it because this is a normal part of the morning process.

2. You will eventually reach the point where a voice in your head will inform you that it is time to do something else rather than laying around when you are not at work or actively parenting. Pay attention to this voice, don’t ignore it or push it away. Make an appointment with your physician to determine if it is safe for you to exercise.

3. Repeat these words throughout the day: “Exercise will help me get through this horrible time. It will put me in a better state of mind where I will be able to get through the pain. Moving my body will enable me to feel good about myself and eventually improve the quality of my life.”

4. Choose an activity that you feel that you can do on a regular basis. Some of you may not have exercised for years. Others may never have worked out. If you are not sure what to do, begin walking. You can do this in your neighborhood and it does not require any equipment other than good shoes. Begin short and slow. When you start exercising, create a realistic goal such as walking for fifteen minutes at a slow pace. You can gradually increase your speed and distance as you go along.

5. Become self aware as you are exercising. Ask yourself: How does my body feel? What is my breathing like? What am I thinking and feeling about?

Once you experience positive results, you will be motivated to continue a regular exercise program. Moving your body is a safe, productive means to deal with tragedy. The pain you are experiencing can move out of your head and into your body. You can feel the anguish gradually leave as sweat pours through your skin and mixes in with the tears falling down your face. You can discover this new way of letting go.

Bob Livingstone, LCSW, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for almost twenty years. He works with adults, teenagers and children who have experienced traumas such as family violence, neglect and divorce. He works with men around anger issues and adults in recovery from child abuse. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy and the upcoming The Body-Mind-Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise (Pegasus Books, Aug. 2007). For more information visit

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

Sunday, March 16, 2008


A major reason I stress meditation as a huge Grief Recovery Tool is because it worked wonders for me. In fact, learning Vipassana meditation was what really turned the road for me. Even though I did lots of grief work prior to that course, I date my "recovery graduation day" from the end of Vipassana. I think it is an experience everyone should try at least once.

Learning about this thought -> feeling -> reaction cycle is interesting in the meantime, and I believe you can still get some benefit from this approach even if you haven't yet learned how to meditate formally. Of course, without formal training, you will need some assistance in being mindful of where you are in the thought -> feeling -> reaction cycle. Elizabeth Bohorquez has written some great material to help get you started:

Getting Back on the Bicycle

Your mind will wander. That is a part of the process. Your work is to stay detached, out of the way. I like to use the image of a parade going by. You are the observer, standing on the curbside. You are not part of the parade. Whenever you find yourself involved in your thought processes ( the parade), return to the position of observer by bringing your attention back to your focus breath or ball. Your mind will continue to show you a thought, you will notice, returning then to the focus.

It's not uncommon to get lost in thoughts. This is because your mind is not well disciplined. In the future, you will begin to notice much earlier, allowing you to return to the focus. The process of breathing, noticing a thought & then returning to the focus is a full release cycle. Releasing is also called "letting go." If someone has ever told you to let something go, this is the actual process of doing just that.

There are three general classifications of what the mind will present to you. First are the thoughts. Some of these are presented in the form of pictures, others as sound bytes or inner mind audio tapes. They can be with or without video. There are many classifications of thoughts. Later on, in your work with your Inner Coach, you will be identifying some of your major thought areas, learning to work with them to profit you and your goals.

Your mind may also show you body communications. These are sensations representing body tension. The more stress, the more body tension. When practicing interactive awareness, place flowers on the body sensation, then open the flowers as you did earlier in your mental biofeedback work.

Next, return to your focus breath. Do not be tempted to stay in the sensation, nor to examine it. That is not the purpose of this practice. This is simply awareness of what is, providing you with an opportunity to observe your mind in action.

The third area includes the emotional states. In our work emotions will be viewed as images of children wearing tee shirts with their names on them. Identifying & separating emotions allows for easier release. If you are working with this image, notice that the children have crayons for coloring your experiences. Later on you will be identifying some of your most frequent emotions and their crayons.


Moments are very small fragments of time, each holding automatic mind programs in the form of thoughts & emotions. The emotions color the moments with their crayons. The body is also involved as it responds to whatever is passing through the moment.

Keep in mind that every moment is valuable. You already know that you can only catch a small number of them. Later on you will learn how to program your subconscious mind for waking up to genres of thoughts of your choosing. For now the goal is simply to practice waking up & releasing.

It helps to set some triggers to help you wake up, just like little alarm clocks. Sticky notes work well for this. No one else needs to know what you are doing. It's not necessary to write anything on them. You already know what they are for. When I'm working to improve this skill for myself, I place a sticky note just to the right on my telephone, one in the car, one on left wall in my office. At home I like the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, the head of my bed. Move the notes occasionally so that your automatic pilot doesn't set up a program to ignore them.

Each time you notice a sticky note, check the moment. Pay attention to your thought processes, noticing the type of thought, the emotional states & crayons that are being utilized. Next, scan your body, noticing the stressors present, gently placing flowers on the bigger areas. This entire exercise takes less than thirty seconds, but provides tremendous benefits, immediate & in the future.

You are building awareness about who you are, your automatic program, your emotional terrain & what crayons you allow to color your life without deciding if they work for you or not.

Elizabeth Bohorquez, RN, C.Ht is a Clinical Medical Hypnotherapist, who works in the area of loss & healing. Her websites offer many articles & discussion on the subject, as well as complimentary mp3 downloads.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Everybody Hurts

In some of my recent correspondence, I've been telling people that I've incorporated grieving into my daily living. By that, I mean grief in a much wider context than my status as a widower. Going back to my 29 January post about Letting Go Emotionally, we can get a good idea about what grief is in the context of our dead spouse — the loosening or defusing of the emotional energy we have tied up with our lost loved one. Therèse Rando says grief is withdrawing emotional energy and investment from someone we love. I would also add that grief is the process of changing all our habits from our old, married life: thought habits, feeling habits, physical habits, mental habits, emotional habits, sexual habits, spiritual habits.

What I've discovered, though, is that there is a much wider context to grief. I'm now noticing references to grief concerning getting older (grieving the loss of youth), illness (grieving the loss of health), the empty nest (grieving the loss of parenting), and community (grieving the loss of an era). The grief principle remains the same in each case, namely changing our habits to free up our emotional energy and investment in these concepts.

I'm discovering more and more that our emotional energy is not so much tied up with these concepts per se, but rather with accumulated memories we have related to these concepts. The more accumulated memories we have acquired, the heavier the emotional investment and the stronger the emotional energy. And a subtle process occurs somewhere along the way — we come to believe that we are those memories.

This struck me today when I was reading the following from an interview on BeliefNet:

Do you feel like you're reinventing yourself for a second life?

Reinvention doesn't really say it for me. Nature doesn't reinvent itself every spring. It does what it does. God invents you. As you get older, the spiritual opportunity is to drop that which is false and to reclaim your true self. T.S. Eliot in "Four Quartets" says, "You're always going home. You're going back home." So, it's not so much that you're going forward, you're coming full circle. You are dropping this artificial self that accumulated -- the burdens, the disappointments, the fears, the falsehoods.

What are these accumulated burdens, disappointments, fears, and falsehoods? Memories. Nothing but memories. And we are not our memories. We are something much more than our memories.

I've been thinking of a bus-stop as a good analogy to living life from our memories. Picture yourself sitting peacefully at a bus-stop on a pleasant summer day. Suddenly, a bus screams up to the curb and slows, not stops. Without thinking, you jump on the bus and it careens around the corner, headed off to goodness knows where. You don't know the route exactly, although you have likely ridden this bus many times in the past. You probably don't even know the number of this bus, nor can you clearly articulate what possessed you to climb aboard. After an exhausting journey, you get booted unceremoniously to the curb, only to have another bus pull up, which you dutifully board, again oblivious as to what number it is or what route it will take. And why do we do this? Habit. And some of us get quite skilled at this on-off bus syndrome to the point where we can jump buses mid-stream. And we wonder why we are tired all the time!

As I continue to study alternative healing methods, a similar methodology emerges. The trick seems to be to notice the bus (a memory) pull up, but consciously refuse to board (don't replay that memory). Simply let the bus come and let the bus go. Remain peacefully at the bus-stop. Whether the technique is reciting a mantra, focusing on breathing and recognizing the impermanence, using the Theater of the Mind, or the Ho'oponopono technique of reciting, "I love you; I'm sorry; please forgive me; thank you," each technique seems to serve to occupy the mind long enough to distract it so that the bus can drive away.

I was reminded of this when I read this blog entry yesterday:

Everybody hurts.

You know, there's one little saying I carry very close to my heart:

"Everyone's having a rough time. Don't give them any more grief."

And isn't that just the truth?

We all get down. I mean, sometimes really down.

Down as in wanting the earth's crust to open up and swallow what little pride we have left.

Yes, indeed. Everybody hurts.

However we can always take solice in the idea that everything passes.

Today we hurt. Tomorrow we smile.

In the words of Hercule Poirot, (that oh-so-famous self-help guru), "Now, it is cloudy. In the morning, the sun shines. Such is life, madame."

I hadn't watched the R.E.M. video for this song before, but I was quite interested to see all the subtitles representing people's thoughts as they are stuck in traffic. Notice how many of those thoughts are related to memories:

I'll close with another part of the interview I quoted above:

When the mirror is no longer telling you what you thought you would like to hear and the culture is no longer telling you what you thought you would like to hear, sometimes that's when you finally have ears for what God wants to say to you. That's when you hear him say things sweeter than the mirror ever told you and sweeter than the culture ever told you. That's when you finally realize that you are loved, and you finally realize you are enough.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

One Hour At A Time

If there's a most frequently-asked question from the bereaved, it is probably "how long will I feel like this?" And while there's no standardized answer in terms of months or years, an appropriate answer is, "a lot longer than you may think." Certainly the 1 year marker is no magical "Get Out Of Grief Free" day, and while not my personal experience, many widow/ers report that year 2 was in many ways harder than the first year. If you are reading this and are within the first year, this is probably not what you want to read, but it is important that you read it somewhere. Grief takes as long as it takes. That is, of course, assuming you do the heavy lifting of grief.

And what is the grief work to be done? I find it is almost always helpful to read what others further down the road have written regarding their journey and things that have helped them. Recently on Widownet, one poster explained 11 specific things that helped her get through 21 months of grief. I hope you find something here that can help you find peace:

Even with our loved ones wanting us to go on and be positive..... and you will..... down the line..... it isn't your time now. G-R-I-E-V-I-N-G is a long hard process which takes lots of time, energy, thinking, praying, sobbing.... And it seems like the timing for all of us is different. Yet I know for me at 21 months, I haven't made it over the marathon hills to even see the finish line (And in reality I don't think there is a finish line).

Things that worked for me along with this wonderful widownet site:
  1. A GriefShare group

  2. Journaling (I was never a writer but boy does that help. I write myself an email and put it in a journal folder. The date is stored on it. I have gone back and read some of my past posting and it helps me see that I have made some progress.)

  3. Devouring every grief book I could.

  4. Allowing myself to let the process be what it was. I just let it happen no matter how embarrassing and blubbering I was at the least expected times.

  5. Learned about those who DGI (don't get it) and learned how to put my boundaries up.

  6. I knew within myself that if I didn't grieve now (not trying to avoid or stuff it) it would manifest itself in crazy ways, down the line, for years to come

  7. I knew who my 'safe' people were to be around.

  8. I spent horrible sleepless nights where nothing helped me sleep (that's getting better). I used the sleepless nights to read, mediate, cry out to God for help and just plain CRY.

  9. I knew the saying, "time heals all" wasn't completely true. I knew it was what I was going to do in that time that would help me heal... And sometimes 'doing' was doing nothing.

  10. I have come out of the "why me" stage to "what am I suppose to learn from all of this." Now truthfully that still comes and goes somewhat. From reading my journals I have learned much.

  11. I am not so much a DGI person in others lives now. I have more compassion for others. I listen more intently when others share with me their losses of any sort. My heart has been ripped open and I want to be there for others in my life whose heart is ripping too.

This is all happening to me slowly. I had numerous months of wailing, and being simply frozen with grief. I am starting to defrost. And I want all of you new ones on here to know your day will come. But until then just do the next thing. One step in front of the other. One hour at a time. Please know you are not going crazy, it's called GRIEF. A foreign emotion many of us never experienced to this degree before now.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Who Gets in Your Bucket?

Many times on our journey of grief, we run into people who want us to feel better, mostly so that they will feel better. We scare them. We are in more pain than they can imagine, and they think that platitudes or constant chiding will miraculously cure us of our grief. In the grief community, these folks are not-so-affectionately called "Don't Get It"s or DGIs for short. I like to call them the Clearly Clueless™. This kind of behavior is to be expected from strangers and acquaintances, and DGIs are simply part of the grief landscape. But what about when we get this behavior from close friends and family? Wouldn't it be helpful if we could print out a short article and have them read it? The following article by Doug Manning does a great job of explaining to DGIs why their reproaches are not at all helpful, as well as offering them a simple suggestion to truly help us:

Who Gets in Your Bucket?
— By Doug Manning

The best way I know to picture how we receive help from others in grief is to imagine you are holding a bucket. The size and color doesn't matter. The bucket represents the feelings bottled up inside of you when you are in pain. If you have suffered a loss, hold the bucket and think through how you feel right now. If you are reading this to learn more about helping others, then imagine what would be in your bucket if a loved one had died very recently. What is in your bucket?

Fear. Will I survive? What will happen to me now? Who will care for me? Who will be with me when I need someone near? Most likely your bucket is almost full just from the fear. But there is also:

Pain. It is amazing how much physical pain there is in grief. Your chest hurts, and you can't breathe. Sometimes the pain is so intense your body refuses to even move. There is enough pain to fill the bucket all by itself.

Sorrow. There is devastating sadness; overwhelming sorrow. A gaping hole has been bitten out of your heart and it bleeds inside your very soul. You cry buckets of tears and then cry some more.

Loneliness. There is no lonely like that felt when you are in a room full of people and totally alone at the same time. Loneliness alone can fill any bucket ever made.

I could go on, but that's enough to get the idea across, and hopefully get you started thinking through your own list. What is in your bucket?

Now picture someone like me approaching you and your bucket. I also have a bucket. My bucket is full of explanations. I am armed and ready to explain why your loved one had to die, how they are now better off and how you should feel.

I am also well equipped with new ways to look at your loss. In politics they call that "spin doctoring," but most human beings seem to know this skill by instinct.

I have almost a bucketful of comforting words and encouraging sayings. I can also quote vast amounts of scriptures. I seem to favor the ones that tell you not to grieve.

So we face each other armed with full buckets. The problem is, I don't want to get into your bucket. Yours is scary. If I get in there, you might start crying and I may not be able to make you stop. You might ask me something I could not answer. There is too much intimacy in your bucket. I want to stand at a safe distance and pour what is in my bucket into yours. I want the things in my bucket to wash over your pain like some magic salve to take away your pain and dry your tears. I have this vision of my words being like cool water to a dry tongue, soothing and curing as it flows.

But your bucket is full. There is no room for anything that is in my bucket. Your needs are calling so loudly there is no way you could hear anything I say. Your pain is far too intense to be cooled by any verbal salve, no matter how profound.

The only way I can help you is to get into your bucket, to try to feel your pain, to accept your feelings as they are and make every effort to understand. I cannot really know how you feel. I cannot actually understand your pain or how your mind is working under the stress, but I can stand with you through the journey. I can allow you to feel what you feel and learn to be comfortable doing so. That is called, "Getting into your bucket."

I was speaking on "Guilt and Anger in Grief " to a conference of grieving parents. I asked the group what they felt guilty about. I will never forget one mother who said, "All the way to the hospital, my son begged me to turn back. He did not want the transplant. He was afraid. I would not turn back, and he died."

I asked her how many times someone had told her that her son would have died anyway. She said, "Hundreds." When I asked her if that had helped her in any way she said, "No."

I asked her how many times she had been told that she was acting out of love and doing the right thing. She gave the same two responses. "Many times" and "No, it did not help."

I asked her how many times she had been told that God had taken her son for some reason, and she gave the same responses--"Many" and "No help."

I asked how many times someone had told her that it had been four years since her son's death and it was time to "Put that behind you and get on with your life." This time she responded with great anger that she had heard that from many well-meaning people, including family members, and that it not only did not help, it added to her pain and made her angry.

What I was really asking her is, "How many people have tried to pour their buckets into yours?"

I then said, "Would it help if I hugged you and said 'that must really hurt'?"

She said, "That would help a great deal. That would really help."

Why would that help? Because I was offering to get into her bucket with her and to be in her pain, instead of trying to salve over her pain with words and explanations.

If you are in pain, find someone who will get into your bucket. Most of the time these folks are found in grief groups or among friends who have been there. It is not normal procedure. It is hard to swallow our fears and climb into your bucket.

If you are reading this to find ways to help others in grief, then lay aside your explanations and your words of comfort. Forget all of the instructions and directions you think will help, and learn to say, "That must really hurt." I think that is the most healing combination of words in the English language. They really mean, "May I feel along with you as you walk through your pain?" "May I get into your bucket?"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Debriding Emotional Wounds


surgical removal of foreign material and dead tissue from a wound in order to prevent infection and promote healing

One really neat aspect of blogging that I wasn't aware of when I started this Grief Recovery Tools project is that I would meet really neat people through my writing. By registering as a Spousal Bereavement Expert on, a great website whose mission is "to provide informative, quality Self Improvement and Natural Health information to help people improve their lives," there have been many invitations to join other Expert networks. One such Expert is Elizabeth Bohorquez, and she has written some amazing articles that I'd like to share with you. Here's the first one. Enjoy!

Inside My Critical Nature & Being

"Blessed is the man who can take bricks thrown at him & build a sound foundation"....Tom Pryor

Related SpokenWords, Thoughts & Emotional MindState - captious, carping, caviling, cavillous, censorious, critic, faultfinding, hypercritical, overcritical, discerning, discriminating, penetrating; finicky, fussy, particular; belittling, demeaning, disparaging, humbling, lowering.

Over the past few days I found myself journaling about criticism that tend to initiate conflicts...self-delivered & delivered by others. I learned from one of my patients that Gemini was in retrograde or something like that, meaning that communication is off. Of course this made me feel better immediately, knowing I had little to do with all the criticism floating around me.

Automatic writing or journaling is very helpful for me personally & I often recommend it to my patients as well, even if they balk about writing. The balking is usually fear-related. Yes, writing is committing ink to paper....or at least it was in the past. I still journal with real paper & pen. It helps to slow the mind down, allowing the images or ideas to form.

After so many years of working in this field, I'm still amazed at how the subconscious mind will cooperate with emotional reframing & healing. Sometimes all I really need is a good metaphor to manage my heavy-air days.

As I broached the subject of critical words, here are some things that came off of my pen....delivered directly from my subconscious mind.

1. Criticism can be a good thing, even if the person delivering it does not mean it as such.....myself included. Of course we are our biggest critic. That's no secret. I'm also well aware of constructive vs destructive criticism. However, I often have a problem with accepting the term constructive criticism, especially when it is delivered in what appears to be a destructive way. Or, is this just a matter of Gemini in retrograde?

2. It doesn't really matter if the criticism is constructive or destructive, nor if Gemini is having a problem or not. I can benefit from all of it... & if there is plenty of it around, it follows that I would could have a wealth of benefits, if I just did what I needed to do. Hmmm....

3. The subconscious mind often connects things in strange ways in order to make it's point. I was brought back to my time of nursing in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center & to the memory of debriding wounds. Wounds cannot heal properly until the dead or infected tissue is removed, often speck by speck. The job of the wound care nurse is to utilize different techniques to achieve this. However, it cannot be done all at once. It is a process, sometimes taking months, depending on the depth or complexity of the wound. The metaphor is forming....

4. Emotional wounds are similar to physical ones. They must also be debrided. Criticism is like pouring acid into certain emotional wounds. Anyone who has experienced this phenomena is certainly familiar with the combination of physical & emotional pain that results. I know that I am....

5. Many of us were born into a very critical environments, thus making us highly sensitive to critical words. Simple words, even if delivered in a constructive way, can be very frightening & debilitating. As a child I had no power & had to develop ways to survive this type of environment, but as an adult I do have power & so it is my responsibility to debride mywounds so I can heal & continue my self-growth.

6. Managing stress is not the same as debriding wounds. While it is very important to eat correctly, meditate, exercise & practice mindfulness, if I truly want to heal & manage my emotions at higher levels, I must be willing to cleanse & debride my wounds.

7. Emotional wounds are debrided through awareness & timely releasing. When criticism is painful, there is a wound that needs to be cleaned. The process is simple, but not always easy. I remember that when treating a patient's wound, I'd often tell them, Yes, it hurts & no, it won't hurt forever. I remember....the patient learns to bring his/her attention to the breath & to ride it, just like riding gentle waves in the sea. The physical pain begins to move to the side & then diminishes. The patient learns to see/sense the wound healing from the bottom up.

8. The same holds true for emotional healing. As the wound heals from the bottom up, the mind will often send fragments of the debris. These may be in the form of old memories or emotions that need to be released. Opening & healing is now in process...

More About Criticism & Connected Conflicts...

There are other things that are helpful for me to remember. First off the bat, conflicts & criticism are inevitable, as long as I'm willing or interested in standing up for what I believe are my rights or beliefs.

It does help to simply the actual word conflict or criticism. The subconscious meaning of words can be so powerful as to disallow any scrutiny because of the attached, automatic mind fear patterns. Conflicts are simply two sets of demands, goals or motives that appear to be incompatible. I must remind myself that I deal with conflicts all day long. Some might be small & I may not even label these as conflicts, but they are nevertheless. This is a very important awareness because as I view them under the conflict or criticism label, I'll come to know that I have been developing excellent resolution skills for a very long time, some actually from early childhood.

Conflicts & accompanying criticisms come in sizes including small, medium & large. Some are more uncomfortable than others. The more uncomfortable tend to be connected to deeper wounds or more sensitive areas in the subconscious mind. Keep in mind that these are very valuable as debriding tools.

The conflicts or critiques I play in the theater of my mind tend to be more frequent & often larger. It's important for me not to forget that these also effect my body physiology & bring more debris to old, deep wounds. Engaging the thought process in awfulizing is a very bad habit & one that can have serious physical & emotional consequences.

This happens to be one of my habits & so I've asked my own subconscious mind to wake me when I'm doing this, so I have the opportunity to break the habit & release the stress. At the same time, I'll take advantage of the self-criticism & do a very more steps to debride any old wounds.

Simple Metaphors for Managing Criticisms...

Here's one I utilize for myself quite often. When someone is critical of me, I change those words in my mind. They are critical of something I've done. This simply means that we have a difference of opinion about this something. That is easier for me to accept & curbs the production of stress chemicals. Remember, I was born into a very critical environment, so I am very sensitive.

Next, in the theater of my mind, I take the "something" & rinse it off under my very beautiful golden faucet. I want to remove the emotional component that was part of the delivery. This way, I am free to examine the "something" & decide if I want to change anything about my part or my beliefs. I may do this immediately, or decide to wait. Then, I might simply thank the other person for bringing this to my attention & to let them know that I'll think about it. This moves me out of a defensive position, into one of maturity & self-control.

Elizabeth Bohorquez, RN, C.Ht is a Clinical Medical Hypnotherapist, who works in the area of loss & healing. Her websites offer many articles & discussion on the subject, as well as complimentary mp3 downloads.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

To Live Is To Die

As I continue to tweak this Grief Recovery Tools blog to make it easier to find in the search engines, I often find myself re-reading my posts from when I first started writing. Today I was re-reading my post entitled "My Experience With Despair," and it struck me that I had written that grief is for life. I was struck for several reasons.

Firstly, I no longer believe that we have to live with unending pain for the rest of our lives. Certainly, that can be a choice for those who decide to become professional widow/ers, and 25 years can easily go by with little relief from that pain. I do remember that when I wrote that blog entry, a part of me was still against "settling" for a life of grief. At some level, it was unacceptable to me to settle. Probably, this was because I had made it a goal early on to reach the stage where I was totally at peace with Deb's death, and living with pain precludes being at peace. So, I continued to search for that peace. Since attending a free Vipassana Meditation course, I believe I have found that peace that I was seeking. The Vipassana website promises that "Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace," and I have certainly found that to be true.

Secondly, however, I was struck by the idea that grief is, in fact, for life. No, I'm not contradicting myself ;-) Grief is a healing process of letting go, and in that sense, we are grieving all the time. As humans, we like to live with this illusion that things can stay the same for long periods of time. The reality is that nothing stays the same for even one second. Everything is always changing. Even when we drill down to the atomic level of existence, we find that atoms are changing at the rate of billions of times per second. In fact, we use this principle to define what a second is.

So, this whole notion of stasis is really just a mental construct at a very high level of abstraction from reality. As the saying goes, "There's nothing as constant as change." The notion that I was married to Deb for 12.5 years exists only in my head. The Deb who died was not the same Deb whom I married, nor am I the same man today who I was on my wedding day. I'm not even the same guy who woke up this morning. Every cell in my body has regenerated trillions and trillions of times just in the last hour. Thus, when I talk about "me" in reference to my body and collected memories, there is in fact no such entity. It is an illusion.

So, while we constantly use these illusory terms to describe how long "we" have owned our house, car, dog, job, etc, at some deep level we are aware that these things are always in flux, always changing. And the determining factor between those people who appear to be always happy and those who appear to be always unhappy is often how they react to change.

Take the instance of a car breaking down. One person can be very upset because they remembered their car as working fine, and now they have a negative reaction to this new change in the status of their car. Another person can laugh it off, accepting the change and letting go of the idea that the car was working fine a while ago. Same scenario, two different people, two different reactions.

My friend Gary Scott tells of an instance he saw in northern Ecuador where a man who was walking down the street was passed by a truck and drenched in water from a resulting puddle splash. After the shock had worn off, the Ecuadorian started smiling and let out a big belly laugh. To me, this suggests a highly evolved perspective on change. Would you expect to see a similar reaction here in North America? I think not. North Americans tend to have rather negative reactions to events such as puddle splashes.

So how does all this relate to grief? Am I suggesting that we can get to the point where we can laugh off the death of our spouse? Hardly. However, I do believe we can begin to recognize that everything we hold dear is constantly changing, and that in fact we are not holding "things" dearly, but rather we are holding our memories of those things dearly. And, as we learned from Ho'oponopono, memories are the causes of all our problems.

What we need to learn to do is to let go of our memories, and, in a sense, grieve for those memories. As we develop this habit, we can become more aware of, and appreciate, life as it is, not as we wish it was. And with this new awareness, we can begin to find that peace we are seeking.

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.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Practice of Mindfulness

I kind of fell into meditation as a Grief Recovery Tool, and rather late in the game at that. Certainly, it was not suggested to me in any of the typical grief books that I read, nor do I recall hearing about meditation at my monthly grief support meetings. I attended my free Vipassana course more as a personal development thing, not specifically for grief recovery. Since then, and especially after receiving the amazing benefits of meditating, I have been wondering how far into bereavement one should be before learning some simple meditation techniques. I'm thinking more and more that, had I attended Vipassana earlier, my grief recovery timeframe would have been significantly shortened.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I've been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It explains very clearly the benefits of being completely open to fully experiencing grief, especially within a meditation framework [pp61-2]:

Meditation is bringing the mind back home, and this is first achieved through the practice of mindfulness.

Once an old woman came to Buddha and asked him how to meditate. He told her to remain aware of every movement of her hands as she drew the water from the well, knowing that if she did, she would soon find herself in that state of alert and spacious calm that is meditation.

The practice of mindfulness, of bringing the scattered mind home, and so of bringing the different aspects of our being into focus, is called "Peacefully Remaining" or "Calm Abiding." "Peacefully Remaining" accomplishes three things. First, all the fragmented aspects of ourselves, which have been at war, settle and dissolve and become friends. In that settling we begin to understand ourselves more, and sometimes even have glimpses of the radiance of our fundamental nature.

Second, the practice of mindfulness defuses our negativity, aggression, and turbulent emotions, which may have been gathering power over many lifetimes. Rather than suppressing emotions or indulging in them, here it is important to view them, and your thoughts, and whatever arises with an acceptance and generosity that are as open and spacious as possible. Tibetan masters say that this wise generosity has the flavor of boundless space, so warm and cozy that you feel enveloped and protected by it, as if by a blanket of sunlight.

Gradually, as you remain open and mindful, and use one of the techniques that I will explain later to focus your mind more and more, your negativity will slowly be defused; you begin to feel well in your being, or as the French say, ĂȘtre bien dans sa peau (well in your own skin). From this comes release and a profound ease. I think of this practice as the most effective form of therapy and self-healing.

Third, this practice unveils and reveals your essential Good Heart, because it dissolves and removes the unkindness or the harm in you. Only when we have removed the harm in ourselves do we become truly useful to others. Through the practice, then, by slowly removing the unkindness and harm from ourselves, we allow our true Good Heart, the fundamental goodness and kindness that are our real nature, to shine out and become the warm climate in which our true being flowers.

You will see now why I call meditation the true practice of peace, the true practice of nonaggression and nonviolence, and the real and greatest disarmament.

Because a major goal of mine early on in my bereavement was to be at peace with Deb's death, you can see how I have been attracted to the mindfulness aspect of meditation. I wish for you the same deep peace that I have experienced. I believe that meditation should be investigated for grief recovery before the shock phase has fully worn off.