Part 2 of 3: Discerning Awareness
When I was a kid, we did this thing called the Nestea Plunge. Standing on the top rung of the pool ladder (or on the pavement at the deep end if you were super brave) with feet separated and arms out in a “T” like five-pointed Starfish Pose, you would lunge your body backward and down into the cool and refreshing depths. It sounds super fun, and it is!
It’s also incredibly harder than it seems. The brain always wants to know where the body is going, and as humans with front-facing eyes, proprioception gets twisted when performing the Nestea Plunge. While plowing the body backwards into a seeming abyss, the body intuitively wants to resist gravity to protect itself. Maintaining inertia can go off the rails and many of the neighbor kids – myself included – would end up splatting into a back flop, and spend the next hour or so nursing cherry-red skin from full velocity impact.
While it is a physical sensation – that moment when your body is screaming NOOO, STOP – there is a plethora of mental and emotional activity happening as well. And the junction wherein physical-mental-emotional-spiritual intersect is exactly the space where profound healing can occur.
Just like the body intuitively wants to resist gravity to protect itself, the heart, mind, and spirit intuitively want to resist pain. And while this is sound logic, it prevents the grieving process from progressing through the necessary stages. By avoiding pain – instead of moving through it – grief gets “stuck.” Healing stalls, and the pain cycle loops.
There can be a strong resistance to allowing ourselves to feel pain.
Often, what’s underneath is fear:
What if I start crying and can’t stop?
What good would it do to think about how upset I am that my person died?
Thinking about my person being dead won’t bring them back!
These attempts at self-protection are not uncommon, and are very human. Simply put, it is the ego part of the brain trying to stay the course – like the conductor working to keep the train on the tracks and running on schedule. In evolutionary/brain science terms, the ego serves to keep us alive. In modern terms, the ego serves to enable us to fulfill our role in society (feed the kids, go to work, pay the bills, do the laundry). Unfortunately, modern society doesn’t always allow or encourage the deep work needed to process through grief. However, if we find ways to chip away at it and embrace the process, not only will we find ourselves flowing through it more fluidly, we will initiate what author and counseling psychologist Megan Devine calls, “Living inside the love that remains.”
Becoming the Observer
In Part 1 of this blog series, I shared about my current grief over the death of a loved one by suicide. By no means is death the only life event that causes grief. As a victim of childhood abuse, a member of the #metoo crowd of survivors, and a person who lives with disability and a prosthesis, I’ve experienced a vast amount of loss and subsequent grieving. So this time around, as I accepted my subscription renewal to the grief club, I decided to do it differently.
I decided to pay attention.
I went through the painstaking process of discovering what this profound loss feels like in my body; what it reminds me of; how it manifests in sensate ways; and the irrational thoughts that arise. I observed how what I was feeling at a particular moment impacted my interactions with those around me. On days when the sadness felt especially intense, I noticed my desire to want to achieve-excel-succeed and be better-faster-more increase exponentially. I found myself wanting to say YES to every opportunity that came my way. On other days where it felt like the resurfacing of past traumas would swallow me whole, I asked friends if they could just hold space for me and listen, or just give me a hug and remind me everything would be okay.
Every day, I’ve made a very deliberate effort to spend time with myself.
Sometimes it’s me shaking my fist and cursing the sky; sometimes it’s putting my earbuds in and being guided through meditation; sometimes it’s supporting myself with props and reclining in a restorative pose; and sometimes it’s sitting next to the creek, watching the ducks float, the grass blow in the breeze, and the water sail by.
Every day, it’s about mindfulness.
My favorite definition of mindfulness says that it’s “paying attention, on purpose, without judgment.” The latter part is usually the hardest. Mind thinks a thought, and then all the different committees want to chime in. But what nonjudgmental awareness helps build is the pathway to self-acceptance. Then, by accepting myself – as I am, in this moment, without judgment – comes true acceptance of the things that happen to and around me.
Cultivating acceptance isn’t about liking or even being okay with what is. It’s about non-resistance. When we put up a fight against what is already true and real, we jump on the hamster wheel of What If and I Should’ve and If Only – essentially mind chatter that further clogs the pathways towards healing.
In yoga philosophy, we learn that acceptance is a beautiful byproduct of Ishvara Pranidhana, the Niyama which guides us in our connection with, and surrender to, Source. As spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle says, “Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to, rather than opposing, the flow of life.”
Surrender and acceptance have been the backbone of my walk through grief.
Linking It All Together
So what does all of this have to do with the Nestea Plunge?
Without discerning awareness, we can easily miss those moments where we feel the body howling NO, STOP! And while it’s true we can’t undo gravity while in midair (I.e. we can’t bring back our deceased loved ones), we can capture the milliseconds and use them to effect change and growth in our lives. Those lightning-fast moments hold a power so rich and so rife with teachable moments.
It is those moments of fear, uncertainty, panic, or even joy, elation, or excitement that provide a vast wealth of information about our internal nature and subconscious drive. With discerning and nonjudgmental awareness, we make a choice to be the curious observer. By observing, we learn more about ourselves so we can provide for ourselves the things that our mind, body, heart, and spirit need.
Prior to January, it wasn’t uncommon for me to tell people that I had healed my C-PTSD. And I wouldn’t say that is totally false. However, in these past 8 months of paying attention, I’ve encountered ongoing intense feelings, memories, and pain. Getting news that a loved one died by suicide is a trauma in and of itself. As well, it triggered a resurfacing of past traumas.
Early on in my grieving process, I identified that I was experiencing a flare of Complex PTSD. Not only did I want to avoid a complete breakdown, I wanted to do what I could to avoid further complicating my overall healing journey. I’ve explored many modalities and therapeutic interventions, and the most helpful has been a combination of EFT (Tapping) with NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming). Stay tuned, as the third installment of this series will focus on exactly that!
In closing, here’s a note of encouragement: We are not going to do it perfectly. Sometimes we will back flop. The success is in the consistent and true effort. The tiny wins along the way are what propel us through the grief and allow us to live inside the love that remains.