Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Riding Shotgun With Grief

After the loss of his marriage, Steve Edwards spent seven months taking care of a house in the backwoods of Oregon. There, in the solitude of nature, he learns to hear and trust himself again. His lyrical book is called, Breaking Into the Backcountry.

In it Edwards shares a meditation technique he picked up from A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield. Kornfield is a clinical psychologist and a Buddhist monk.

Although my form of grief therapy is to hike into nature and listen to the trees, mountains and rivers, I’ve had some exposure to meditative techniques for opening up the inner self. In grad school I encountered Progoff’s Intensive Journal Method as well as the Ignatian Exercises of the Jesuits.

In the Ignatian Exercises, you imagine yourself walking around inside New Testament stories, meeting the people in the account, and making the environment tactile. You sense the heat of the day, notice a cool breeze moving through, the anxiety of the group of people for what might happen, and the harsh reality of everyday life under Roman rule.

One day the crowd has gathered because they think Jesus might appear. He does and he begins talking about what we have come to know as the Sermon on the Mount. You hear his words being spoken in that situation, that time, that culture, and you understand those words in a new, and personal, way.

Step back from the emotions of grief and, in your mind, walk around your situation.

Another book, which I read 20 years ago, is If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him, by psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp. Kopp draws insights from many sources including the Bible, Jung, the I Ching, and Siddhartha. If I remember right, his point is that reality is not limited to what we construct with our thinking. Reality is multidimensional, and we need to involve our subconscious to understand what we cannot physically see or logically comprehend.

In the Kornfield meditation, you close your eyes and think of a painful moment in your life that still troubles you. Those who grieve have several moments to choose from. You invite a wise person to enter that moment. It could be someone you look up to, or an historical figure like Jesus, Mother Teresa, Buddha, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rumi, or Maimonides.

You open the door and walk this person over to that moment, let him or her take your place and do what he or she would do and say in that situation. Then your wise person whispers something in your ear and leaves.

What we are doing is stepping back from the situation to see it objectively, as if it were happening to someone else. We see what each person in that situation needs, what each person is able to give, and we gain an awareness of how we can react. We relax our grip and open ourselves to the alternatives.

What is at work in each of these techniques is allowing our deeper selves to speak, letting our intuition rise and be heard along with the normal controlling thoughts of our conscious mind. We are responding with our whole being.

Grief is an overwhelming experience. Emotions go on overload. Thoughts are scrambled in chaos, and we aren't sure what we need to do. Grief is not something that we can think our way through. We have to feel our way, listening with our whole being and following the path that feels right.

We are wiser and more compassionate than we let ourselves know.


My essay on "Why We Need to Give Men Permission to Grieve" was published by The Good Men Project.

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