Checking In On Grief
Yesterday while searching through thousands of my photos for an image to use in an article, I realized that I was mentally categorizing the photos as pre and post Ralph’s death. It made me pause and take a moment to drop into that space where I self-reflect on how I’m doing grief-wise. Pretty darn well, I have to say. Checking in on grief is important.
I saw my energy medicine teacher last weekend and she remarked that although I had suffered a great loss when Ralph died, the experience had opened a door for me to expand spiritually. This is a concept that is difficult for many people to grasp but it is very true. I feel blessed to be in this space rather than stuck in debilitating sorrow and/or anger. Ralph’s death happened at a time in my life when I had begun to really delve into the mysteries of life as well as the afterlife.
Believing that Ralph’s spirit is just on another plane is a great source of comfort to me. He comes in and out of my consciousness, and for some reason was very present in the weeks before my last trip to Asheville.
I would be riding my bike and could see him ahead of me (in my mind’s eye, of course!), weaving through the tourists on the bike path down by the river–making an opening for me to get through.
I was hearing the music he loved to listen to and I could smell his favorite cologne.
He was there in the theater watching a movie with me. I was easily brought to tears but they were happy tears, cleansing and opening my heart rather than closing it. I can physically feel the difference now.
Don’t get me wrong–our relationship was far from perfect. I would venture to say there are few out there that are.
After Ralph’s death, I did a lot of soul-searching–journaling about what was both right and wrong with our time together. I was able to process the emotional baggage of the not-so-great stuff and leave in its place all that was good about our relationship. And it is in that space, on a soul level, that I still feel connected to him.
According to both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lungs are the seat of grief and sadness. I found this out firsthand a couple of years ago when I had whooping cough (long before Ralph died). Months after I had recovered, I had a session with Dr. Mei Jen Weng–an acupuncturist/healer who approached me and without even an introduction said, “My dear, you have so much grief, it’s buried in your bones.”
I was shocked. I told her that I didn’t even feel sad. Things were pretty good and I was there for a completely unrelated issue. Dr. Weng replied that this grief had likely been stored in my body for many years, perhaps even carried over from past lives. She placed a needle in my chest and it was as if a tsunami arose–within seconds tears and sobs spilled out uncontrollably. When I left the session, I felt as though a weight had been pulled off of me, one that I didn’t even realize was there.
In Maya Tiwari’s book The Path of Practice: A Woman’s Book of Ayurvedic Healing she writes about how vital it is to heal our ancestral wounds. Faced with a diagnosis of terminal ovarian cancer at only 23 years-old, she retreated to the woods of Vermont prepared to die. Instead, she found herself reconnecting to her ancestors through writing, meditation and her dreams, and was able to heal the wounds which had been passed down through generations. When she emerged from her cabin and returned home, doctors could find no trace of cancer in her body.
When I read this book I immediately thought of what Dr. Weng had said to me. I started to think back on my own parent’s lives, especially as children and realized how much sadness and grief they had both endured.
Going back even further, I could look to my mother’s Polish heritage, and see the insurmountable suffering that happened in that country. Ditto my father, whose roots were Irish and Scottish.
A few months ago I did a workshop with Vasant Lad, an Ayurvedic doctor who helped bring the 5000-year-old system of mind, body, and spirit medicine to the West.
We spent one morning doing Pranayama, an ancient Ayurvedic practice which helps regulate our life force energy through various breathing techniques. During one of the rounds we were instructed to completely breathe out all of the air in our lungs.
Dr. Lad explained that doing so would expel old stale air and along with it the grief that is stored in the lungs.
For many of us in the West, these concepts might seem strange. We’re used to putting a bandaid on a problem, be it physical or emotional, and not getting to the root cause. But I can tell you from my own experience that they are lifesaving.
Here’s a breathing technique that anyone can do to cleanse the lungs, breathing out grief and replacing it with courage, which also resides in the lungs.
- Sit upright in a relaxed position.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. As you take a deep breath in through your nose, you should feel your belly rise, pushing outward instead of inward.
- When you have taken in as much air as you can, breathe out slowly through your mouth making the sound sssss (like a hissing snake) and expelling every last bit of air you can. As you are making this sound, imagine that you are letting go of all the grief and sadness, the darkness, and the pain, that has been trapped in your lungs. Start by doing this 3 or 4 times and increase the number of breaths over time.
- Now breathe deeply and imagine your lungs being filled with courage, just like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Picture a beautiful healing light, any color that resonates with you, filling your lungs.
- Smile. 🙂
I’m sending love and light to anyone who is suffering from grief and sadness – be it from the loss of a loved one, a job, a marriage or anything else. Once you emerge from the darkness of grief, it can transform your life just as it has mine.