Friday, May 30, 2008

Feeling, Not Thinking

For the last month, I've been pondering the answers to two questions I was recently asked about grieving. The first one came as a result of a woman reading my blog posting about What We Can Learn From Grief and wondering how we can get out of the way mentally and let our body grieve. The second question was asked by a relatively new widow: how does one facilitate the grieving process?

I believe the answers to these two questions are related, so I'm going to attempt to answer them both simultaneously. First, let's start with the premise that grief is primarily a feeling process, not a thinking process. Why is this important? There's a big tendency here in the West, especially for men, to intellectualize grief. We can think about our grief all we want, but we're not likely to heal much that way.

OK, fine. I need to feel in order to heal. But what does that mean in practice?

I was very lucky as an early widower to be aware of a healing process called Focusing. The best book I found on the subject is called The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing. As a man, I found this technique to be very helpful as it taught me how to listen to what my body was trying to tell me. I highly recommend it.

I read recently that the primary purpose of our neo cortex is to produce thoughts, which lead in turn to movement. When I attended a Vipassana meditation course, this was elaborated on a bit as follows:

  • First, a thought comes to our mind

  • This thought produces a feeling or sensation somewhere in our body

  • Due to this feeling, we react in some way

Can you see how intellectualizing grief is counter-productive? I don't know about you, but when I was in the throes of grief, I had more feelings than I knew what to do with! I certainly didn't need to have thoughts generating even more feelings. Instead, I needed a way to work with the feelings I already had. And I needed my brain to be quiet.

What I learned through 100 consecutive hours of silent Vipassana meditation was how to allow a thought to come to mind, feel the sensation, but not react to it in any way. This not reacting included not generating additional, related thoughts and perpetuating the cycle. By the end of the course, a thought could come up and pass away, and I felt no need to follow it or react to it. As a result of not being needed, my mind grew very quiet. I guess it didn't like being ignored ;-) With this quieting of my mind came a deep and healing peace. I finally met the real me, that guy who doesn't have any problems.

It was right after I came back from Vipassana that I learned about a Hawaiian healing method called ho'oponopono. It says that any problem we experience in our life comes as a result of a memory. The solution? Let go of the memory. I have written a fair bit about this method and how it has helped me.

In my next post, I'll explain more about how we can help our body heal from grief.


Anonymous said...

You often talk about using the skills you've learned in Vipassana, and other methods of meditation, in your healing process. To successfully heal, do you feel that these methods must be used, or can we heal from our grief without in-depth knowledge of these methods?

Vic said...

Hi Daria, I've answered your question in my latest post:

Passing The Two-Minute Test