Friday, October 17, 2008

Passing The Two-Minute Test

I'll start off with a few words about my whereabouts since late August — I moved! My second move of the summer, actually, and then the dramas of moving into a new home (like no hot water, malfunctioning dishwasher, dozens of deficiencies, etc.). That, plus merging two households into one, plus starting a new school year for my son, and it all adds up to not having a ton of time for blog posting ;-)

It has given me a number of days in which to reflect, however. When I first started my blog, I was already well on my way to completing my bereavement. I did want to share a number of tips and techniques for coping, understanding, and finding the road to peace, and I believe I have done so. To that end, I will no longer be actively posting every other day or so. I have said what I have to say, and past postings are always available for those just setting out on this journey. Other projects now await my time.

I will, however, post periodically in response to specific reader questions or comments. And I'd like to thank Jenny for encouraging me to break my silence and post again :-)

On the 26th of September, Daria posted the following comment:

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?

Thanks, Daria, for the great question. I've been thinking about how to answer it for the last three weeks. First off, I'm not sure I would use the word "heal" anymore. What has changed is my perspective. But I know what you mean.

I really appreciate Eckhart Tolle's work for simplifying a host of psychological and spiritual concepts — cutting through the miasma of thousands of years of nebulous opinions and getting to the heart of things. I find it interesting that I am only discovering his books at the end of my grief journey. His two best-sellers encompass everything I think you need to know to come out of bereavement. Here's what I have learned:

To me, bereavement is a devastation of your mind, your ego. Your mind intensely dislikes the present moment, preferring instead to keep you caught up in thoughts about the past and anxieties about the future. Sound familiar?

In bereavement, your ego, your sense of self has been shattered. To compensate, your mind switches into high gear and roughly shoves you into alternating currents of your past married life and the dark, single, uncertain future. This is a very dangerous thing for the ego to do — most people don't appreciate being shoved around, and they are likely to do something about it. And they might start paying attention to the present moment. If they do this in the right way, they will come to a startling discovery — that the present moment is perfect just as it is, and that there is no need for the ego.

Meditation is simply the act of being focused on the present moment. Right this second. And this second. And this second. Not focused on the past. Not focused on the future. Right now. Only now. Sound simple? Try it. Try just being aware of the present moment for 2 minutes. No thoughts about the past, no thoughts about the future. Just the immediate feedback from your 5 senses. Close your eyes to make it easier ;-)


Well? Bet you couldn't go the full two minutes. Your mind sucked you in to the past, or tried getting you to focus on something you need to do in the future. This is the nature of the mind.

I wrote that near the end of my Vipassana course, I discovered the Vic that has no problems. Thanks to Eckhart Tolle, I now understand that that Vic was the one who was totally focused on the present moment. THERE ARE NO PROBLEMS IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. Yes, I'm shouting ;-) Every moment spent in the present moment is a moment spent with no problems.

But the mind / ego hates this — it is a problem-solver. If you spend time in the present where there is no problems, then you have no need for the mind / ego. In The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart sums this up nicely [pp 87-8]:

But the more you practice monitoring your internal mental-emotional state, the easier it will be to know when you have been trapped in past or future, which is to say unconscious, and to awaken out of the dream of time into the present. But beware: The false, unhappy self, based on mind identification, lives on time. It knows that the present moment is its own death and so feels very threatened by it. It will do all it can to take you out of it. It will try to keep you trapped in time.

Knowing this, try the 2-minute test again. With your eyes closed, focus only on the sensory data you receive from your remaining four senses. No thoughts about the past, no thoughts about the future. Try it again.


Still couldn't do it, could you? Now you can see how meditation training can be beneficial.

So, to answer your question, Daria: Peace exists only in the present moment. Nowhere else. But your mind will do everything it can to keep you focused on anything but the present moment. You couldn't even keep your mind focused on the present moment for two minutes, and this even after I warned you that your mind would prevent you. So who's running the show? You, or your mind? They are not the same thing. You are not your mind. Meditation helps you to dis-identify from your mind.

If by healing you mean to live at peace, you will need to find some way to live in the present moment, the only place where you will find peace. Meditation provides many methods for focusing on the present. There are other ways. In my next post, I'll outline several of them.


Sheila said...

Thankyou for your words !
Very comforting, as always, when I find I'm not alone !!
My best-friend/hubby passed away 18mos ago & I still can't believe I've made it this far !
If you'd like my story, just let me know !
And yes, this has been the most difficult journey of my life !
And I don't think it'll ever be over !
God Bless you & your son !!

Anonymous said...

Hi Vic,

I came across your blog when searching on google for 'letting go moving on after death of spouse'.

I look forward to going back through the archives to understand the journey leading to where you are at now.

I have some similarities to your experience. My wife died in a car accident on May 1, 2004 leaving behind a 10 day old baby girl and a 4 1/2 year old boy as well as a devastated husband.

Take care and even if you aren't posting as regularly I still have much to read to catch up!


tonyamd said...

my husband died in a car accident 17 mo. ago. we had a huge fight and i told him to leave (among other words) he left and 45 sec. he was gone. i heard the crash and went to the scene (terrible).i have so much guilt that i cannot shead. i have 2 small kids and they do well most of the time. i have never spoken to anyone about the way i feel, i am one that keeps it to my self. but this sucks i am tired of this and i want to feel better. i have medical conditions now that i never had before and they tell me it's stress, huge wt. loss. but it seems noone understands why i can't just get over it. if you ever have time and i know that times is hare to find but i would appreciate your advice. thanks TD

Vic said...

Hi Tonyamd,

First off, I am very sorry for your loss. I can appreciate your desire to move on and feel better, and it is definitely possible. I speak from experience :-)

You ask for my advice, so here it is: get yourself to a bereavement group as quickly as you can, and share with other bereaved people what you have shared with me. Or continue to suffer for another year or two, or five or ten. I'm purposely being blunt here because you need to take some action in order to feel better. That guilt will continue to circle around inside you until you get it out.

A great way to deal with guilt is to work through the exercises in the Grief Recovery Handbook (see link on left navigation menu). Over the space of 6 weeks, you are guided through the process of writing a letter to your dead husband, and in it you will express all your guilt, anger, love, remorse, and all your other emotions regarding him and your married life together. Then you read it aloud, and you say Goodbye. The key here is getting your emotions out. Get them out! Grief isn't something you can "keep to yourself" as you put it -- unless you want to feel like this for another 17 months.

As you read through my blog, you'll see lots of articles to help you disassociate from your mind. You are not your mind, nor are you that incessant stream of dialog either.

There's no point in getting into an argument with your mind when it hits you with a guilt trip. Instead, just acknowledge the mind chatter. Say out loud, "Thank you for sharing." If you acknowledge the mind dialog, it gives up on that train of thought. You'll probably need to do this a few times at first, as the mind is tricky and doesn't like being brushed off. As you get better at taming your mind, this becomes easier.

Lastly, read my post on Feeling, not Thinking II, and do what it says. Yes, all five senses. Don't miss one.

I hope this is helpful to you, and I wish you and your small children a wonderful Christmas.

Tripti said...

Hi Vic, my hubby died 6 months ago in aplane crash while at work, and though i try to cope with it bravely still at times feel very low, and after this incident i cannot belive in anything related to afterlife or spiritual things. I feel only i can help myself, but at times m too low and dont want to share it with people.
But when i saw your blog felt like wrting to you since you also been throught the same.

Anonymous said...


I must have been directed to your site for a good reason. I read some of your entries, and they make alot of sense to me. I need help. My husband passed away seven years ago. I am still, living in the past and the memories haunt me. I loved again for the last several years, and now he has left me. I am devastated. It is like the loss of my husband (20 years) has come again. So alone, so alone. Can't think of a better word. I look forward to reading your past entries. Glad you found new love,
cherish every second.

Anonymous said...

Cool Blog. Just what I needed at this moment. Look forward to living in the moment. All I could do is give it a try. Nothing else is working. Lol.

Vic said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'm very sorry for your loss. How long has it been for you? I hope you're able to find some peace from my blog postings. Feel free to ask any questions you may have, and I'll do my best to help.

May you find peace,


Anonymous said...

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

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

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

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


Vic said...

Hi Chinmay, I'm very sorry for your loss.

You pose an excellent question, one which I intend to answer with a blog post -- it is that important.

Essentially, there is no contradiction. In fact, presence is required in order to go to the core of memories and pain.

Presence is not so much a matter of suppression as it is a matter of focus.

In my case, I had to focus on those memories and that pain and then be 100% present with the resulting feelings. The result was surprising.

Presence is a tool. There are other tools, and in grief it is helpful to have a whole toolbox full of tools. Going to the core of a memory or pain is another tool. Both tools can work together.

Look for my new blog posting shortly where I'll expand on this concept.

And thanks for the great question :-) I'm sure others have been wondering the same thing, and I hope to shed some needed clarification on this issue for everyone's benefit.

May you find peace,


obakesan said...


Thanks for your blog. My wife died just a few months ago and I am still in the thick of it all.

My lovely Anita was wrenched from me when she went on a flight to Finland, a previously undiagnosed brain tumor killed her.

Like many who post here my wife was my best friend, my soul mate and my loving partner. We had a wonderful life based on living our lives. We were not wealthy but very happy. On my own blog I am writing about my experiences. As you seem to understand well its a horrible time and I often wonder why I go on.

I have no question, only wanted to thank you for this resource

Anonymous said...

My husband is dead too, and I am glad. He didn't help me in my time of need! I helped him though cancer and ALS Lou Gherigs. What did he do for me. NOTHING!!!!!!!!! Good riddance!