Every person born shares the experience of grief. It is universal. What is not so universal anymore is our ability to metabolize our grief and begin the process toward transforming our loss into a fuller, joy-filled life.
In his book The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise, MartÍn Prechtel says:
“As a matter of course, it’s a fact that grief, if not metabolized, almost always goes to some form of accusatory violence in the end. Either externalized, exported, or internalized— or all of the above.”
Let's break that down: metabolizing grief is a process that simply means we learn to confront our grief, to be "with" it, and to learn what it has to teach us. The opposite of metabolizing grief is "stuffing" grief - pretending that somehow if we can outrun it, it will simply dissipate. We try to outrun grief through an amazing variety of ways: numbing with food, alcohol, video games, television, overwork, addictive behaviors of every variety, even shopping. Our ability to be awake and fully functional as individuals, communities, and societies is dependent upon how well we metabolize our individual and collective grief. When we try to outrun grief instead of metabolize it, grief goes underground, it becomes stuck, and it manifests in “accusatory violence.” Accusatory violence is the highly toxic behavior of violence in communications, physical violence, "us vs them," covetousness, envy, and the cycle of war. It is internally violent as our body is at war with itself, much like auto-immune disease.
You may be experiencing un-metabolized grief if you observe these triggers/responses:
It is not difficult to imagine how this affects our relationships, our success at work, personal satisfaction, and the health of our communities. In fact, one could say that it is an essential conscious act for us to learn to grieve and mourn well, so that we can be our best selves as individuals, and members of our community. So, in the days ahead, we will be learning a great deal about grief on this journey together, to both understand what grief is and its processes, and to comprehend how we can engage those processes for the health of ourselves and our communities. I call this “getting your joy track back.”
Here are a few helpful starters to consider:
1. Avoid confusing grief with disappointment. Disappointment is when you lost something you wanted, or didn’t get something you expected. Prechtel simply defines grief as “what living beings experience when what or whom they love dies or disappears.”
2. Recognize that overwhelming feelings are normal, and grant yourself permission to “stay on your mat.” If you can imagine the sweaty, challenging moment in yoga class right before you make a breakthrough in a new asana - it won’t come if you don’t stay on your mat and complete the exercise. In grief, the breakthrough moments are often just on the other side of “this is crazy hard.”
3. Grief is not passive, it is active. If you don’t have a “tribe” who will honor and actively support your grieving process, find a guide who will hold space for you and “have your back” while you do the deep work of grief.
4. Glennon Doyle Brown, author of “Love Warrior,” coined the term “brutiful” which means both beautiful and brutal experiences are integral to one another and inseparable. Similarly, Prechtel says that both grief and praise go together. When you are grieving, recognize that the honor of your loss is found in praise, even as your deepest emotions are ones of sadness. It is so often those brutal moments that leave us gasping that we realize that we have something for which we can be grateful that we didn’t see before. It could be newly recognized strength, resourcefulness, deep kindness, or some other beautiful gift.
5. Just as we can remind ourselves that we are in the midst of a “brutiful” journey, like a hero’s journey, we can hold onto the truth that this unfolding narrative of our life has an ending, and we are in control of the ending. We are not in the midst of our grief in an utter chaos that will never resolve well. You can make this better, both faith and science show us how. More of that to come in future posts!
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Until next time.
Prechtel, MartÍn (2015-04-14). The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise (pp. 3, 83). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.