Monday, August 11, 2008

My Story IV

This is the last part of a recent speech I gave about my grief journey. Read part I, part II,and part III if you missed them.

I've gathered many insights along the way, and I'd like to quickly share 8 of those insights with you now.

The first one is that humans are notoriously bad with causality. Why did Deb get cervical cancer? Who knows. Why did she die at age 32? Who knows. Spending hours and hours thinking about these types of "why" questions didn't really get me anywhere in my grieving. Eventually, I learned to make peace with ambiguity. I don't need to know why.

The second insight is that I needed to learn how to love myself first. I had spent so much of my time caring for Deb and my son that I hadn't taken any time for me. I had to learn how to treat myself well, and that meant doing things that made me feel good, not necessarily those around me. I also learned to say "no" to pressures from work and friends to do things that would take up my time. I needed all my spare time to grieve.

The third insight is that grief is largely a feeling process, not a thinking process. Intellectualizing my grief was not very helpful, but expressing my grief with my body was helpful. The techniques I learned from The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing were very helpful. I found I could help the process along by managing my sensory environment and making choices that relaxed my five senses. I put artwork on my walls; I listened to smooth jazz at home and classical music at work; I learned a bit about essential oils and made sure my house smelled nice; I ate good-tasting food, even if my senses were dulled for a while; and I wore clothes that made me feel good about myself. I smiled a lot, whether I felt like it or not. And I walked outside in nature as often as I could.

The fourth insight is that stress exists because we insist. You'll recall that when I was trying to sell my house to move to Central America, I experienced major bodily stress. As soon as I abandoned all those plans, and decided to go with the flow of grief, that bodily stress went away. It was an important lesson. Even today, whenever I feel stress, I stop and examine how I am trying to resist the flow of life. When I stop resisting, the stress evaporates. I learned how to go with the flow.

The fifth insight is that we are goal-seeking entities. We are designed to always have a goal out in front of us. Once I started diligently learning about grief, I realized that my new goal was to be at peace with Deb's death. The question I started asking myself all the time was, "how can I be at peace?" With this question as my goal, I started finding answers.

Sixth insight: I learned this concept from the Vipassana meditation course I attended in Quebec and subsequent studying on the subject afterwards. Our thoughts and feelings are impermanent. The whole purpose of our brain is to generate thoughts which lead to movement. The pattern is: a thought comes up, which leads to a feeling somewhere in the body, which leads to action of some kind. But because grief is primarily a feeling process, we don't need our brains to generate thoughts to have feelings – we already have way more feelings than we know what to do with! But how do we quiet the mind? What I learned by sitting in that gloomy hall for 10 hours a day for 10 days was how to allow a thought to come up and pass away without acting on it. I was fine to just be, I didn't have to do anything. To put it simply, we are human beings, not human doings.

Seventh insight: I learned this from a Hawaiian healing method called ho'oponopono. When I look back on my life, I see that every single one of my problems originated from my memory. Looking back on the past and comparing it to the present is a recipe for misery. So, I learned a technique for dealing with my memories and letting them go. I can make a choice: I can live in the past, from my memory, or I can live in the present, from my 5 senses. The healing technique is very simple. Whenever I find myself reliving a memory, I say 4 simple phrases: I love you, I'm sorry, please forgive me, thank you. This helps me let go of the memory and reminds me to live in the present. You can read more about this amazing technique on my blog.

And lastly, I've glommed onto a set of simple, yet profound, guidelines for running my life. When I go to do anything, I remind myself that I'm going to do it as follows: in an easy and relaxed manner, in a healthy and positive way, in its own perfect time, and for the good of all. The result of following these simple guidelines? A peaceful, stress-free life. I love the expression, "how you do anything is how you do everything."

I’ll leave you tonight with one more insight that I learned second-hand. This one comes from Ecuador. A shaman there was recently asked what he thought the biggest problem was with North Americans. He thought for a moment and said, "They don't respect endings." Why? Probably ignorance. Endings are really beginnings.

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