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

Exploring Your Grief

Many of us go into nature to unwind and be refreshed. Some of us go into the wilderness to work our way through a problem that befuddles us at home, yet when we try to talk to others about what we are discovering in nature, or how our experiences there are transforming us, we find it hard to express this in words.

Steve takes on the challenge of describing this inner movement in his book. He invites us into his days as the caretaker of a cabin in the wild backcountry of Oregon for seven months. With no one around, he is forced to deal with the silence, isolation, and his unresolved struggles with a recent divorce. As John Muir, one of Edwards’s heroes, said, the journey into nature is also a journey inside.

Insights of Thoreau, Rilke, Thomas Merton and others guide him as he adjusts to the solitude and learns to trust himself again. His life intersects with the lives of the deer, bears and mice, and there are keen observations of nature’s changes as it transitions from April to November.

At the beginning of the book, Steve questions how he is going to cope with living alone. By the middle of summer, so much has happened that, lost in the glory of another sunset, he wonders how many epiphanies he has already forgotten.

This is a book of presence and reclaiming one’s foundations. Solitude becomes a resource and refuge for Steve when the pressures of daily life become too much. While he does not arrive at the destination he sought, he does find a path that is taking him there, a path that guides and nourishes.


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 waiting for what might happen, and the harsh reality of everyday life under Roman occupation.

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. He 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 in order 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 our emotions in the situation to see it objectively, as if it were happening to someone else. We see what each person in the 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, and we aren't sure what we need to do. Grief is not something that we can think our way through. We also 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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