Surfing with Grief

This article also appears in the Huffington Post.

IMG_0582The ground shifted underneath me. November 2016 was a month of grief and shock for me. The loss of the election by way of the Electoral College to a man who brings darkness and hatred with his words and actions shook me to the core. Then, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, one of my colleagues took his own life in our office suite. I’m still reeling from it all.

On the one hand I’m doing ok. Still doing all my self-care: Reiki and meditation every day, eating nutritious foods, and exercising. I’m also focusing on talking with others about these losses. Sleep has been a mixed bag and, honestly, the darkness of this time of year creates an extra weight.

I’ve always been interested in the mind-body connection. When I was a philosophy student, “The Body in the Mind” by Mark Johnson was very influential to me. During this grieving-time I’m paying attention to the signs in my body.

“I’m doing ok,” I tell everyone and yet my head is pounding. I catch my reflection in a window, and I see my body slumped forward. It is difficult to sit up straight. I eat well and then suddenly intense nausea grips me. I sleep very little or a lot or I wake with a fright during the night.

Work is very difficult. Each day I dread going back to the office. I was not there when Sergey’s body was discovered so I don’t carry that pain, but I feel the grief of my colleagues. I see their swollen faces, their gaze that is focused on the floor, and I hear them saying, “I’m ok.”

I’m pushing on at work. Trying to be strong for myself and others. This is the job that I wanted, that I have been seeking. I have a wonderful set of colleagues, the work is meaningful, and a great institution supports us.

However, as things return to normal: an 8-hour day with 10 meetings; demands to meet unrealistic schedules; and difficult problems to solve technically and interpersonally; I feel myself recoiling from it all.

This grief is significant. These dark days are difficult. It’s all a familiar feeling – not sure if that helps or not that I’ve felt this before. I keep coming back to this metaphor:

The “lifeboat” has taken me out to sea. It dropped me off with my surfboard in my regular clothes, no fancy wetsuit or bathing suit. Only thing is, I don’t know how to surf.

Maybe I knew once – in a previous life? Who knows? Anyway, I recall seeing what others do at these times.

They lie down on the surfboard and start paddling with their arms.

So I start to do that. I see a wave form and know that I’m supposed to stand up on the board, balance, and ride the wave. I attempt to do this, but I’m smacked down by the wave and it pushes me to shore.

I stand up with my surfboard in one hand, soaked, sand inside my clothes, salt water in my nose and mouth.

Stinking eyes see people waving to me from the lifeboat – they’re telling me to ride the waves again.

And so I swim out to where the waves are breaking. I don’t know how to do this surfing thing, of that I’m sure, but I see a wave coming and try to stand on the surfboard. I do stand for a tenuous moment with fingertips still clinging to the board and then I fall again.

Back on shore, I sit in the sand exhausted and sore – knowing I’ll need to ride the waves again and again until I’m an expert at this thing I never wanted to know how to do.

That’s what grief is like for me right now.

I don’t know how this will all work out. I do know this is a very difficult time for myself and others and so my intention is: self-care and care for others.

As we navigate grief, I want to offer to you a helpful thought – a practice. When we’re grieving I know these things are helpful:

  • Reiki
  • Meditation
  • Time in nature
  • Talking with friends
  • Physical movement
  • Creativity

That last one is particularly powerful. One doesn’t have to be a skilled artist or even produce work that you share with others, it is the act of creating that breaks down the bonds of grief. Some helpful resources can be found here.

So, I invite you to a place of self-care and creativity. Care of yourself through mindful practices of Reiki, meditation, journaling, connecting with like-minded people, being in nature, moving your body, and creating.

These things will build you up and support your heart in its journey. They will also point to the actions that will align with your values and intentions.

Wishing for us all healing of body, mind, and spirit.

I teach Reiki and mindfulness and I’m operating on autopilot

Photo by Janice E. Lodato

This article also appears on the Huffington Post.

The title of this post is 100% accurate at times. This is a difficult thing to admit but it’s true: sometimes I’m on autopilot and walk around with an almost complete lack of awareness of my thoughts and of the present moment.

Awareness of my lack of awareness came about in the following way: I have a new, highly demanding job that calls for lots of my attention and time. When I finally carved out some time for writing, an activity that brings me joy and fulfillment, I found I had nothing to say.

My thoughts were not clear, my intention was lost, and the voice in my head that creates a narrative was silent.

There are so many reasons for this situation. First, there is the lack of time spent reflecting on ideas. I haven’t been participating in one of my other favorite activities: staring out a window and just thinking. It may look like I’m doing nothing or that I’m not in the present moment, but I’m in a very present place of engaging with an idea, only in my mind and nowhere else. This feeds my writing.

Second, there is the lack of time spent taking in ideas. Oh, there are plenty of ideas at work that swirl around all day about technology and process issues, but I’m talking about, what are for me, the big ideas. The ideas about what it means to live a meaningful life; what it means to be human; and what it means to be kind and loving. One of the things that feed my writing is reading articles and books that explore these big ideas.

In all honesty, I haven’t been doing those two things and it’s creating a void in my ability to write and think creatively.

Now things aren’t all bad, I’ve been maintaining my self-Reiki practice and I meditate, eat well, and exercise regularly. I spend time with friends and connect with my family, but let’s be honest here, I’m on autopilot.

I stick to my routine like a drill sergeant and have no wiggle room for a healthy, long-term gaze out the window. So, I’m re-evaluating my workdays and my schedule in general to make sure there is open time for reading enriching materials and thinking, just thinking.

Perhaps I’m more mindful than I give myself credit for – I became aware of my lack of day-to-day, moment-to-moment awareness of my thoughts and I’m making changes to come back to that place of mindfulness.

And as I finished writing that, the previously silent wind chimes in my backyard, sang out – affirming my intention and awareness of the present moment.

Sat nam. I am. I am here now.

Wishing for you an abundance of loving awareness.

Why the Stages of Grief are so Appealing

Mirror Maze photo by Janice E LodatoJust when you think you’ve “moved on” and accepted your new normal, you notice someone who reminds you of your beloved. Or you reach into your closet and pull an old sweater to your face and your mind floods with images of the one you’ve lost. Or you sit on the edge of your bed to get dressed and remember how you sat there that day – stunned by feelings of loss and grief. How can it be? You’re right back where you were before.

If this sounds at all familiar to you in your journey with grief, you are not alone. While the stages of grief, as described by Kubler-Ross, are very appealing – especially in their linear nature, i.e., that we will achieve acceptance and be done – the reality of grief is much more varied. It is complicated, and, well, not stage like at all. Perhaps it’s more of a circle than a line that goes:

Denial –> Anger –> Bargaining –> Depression –> Acceptance

The human mind likes to understand things and categorize them. We’re constantly trying to make sense of our experiences and stages are very appealing. Definitely, there is a lot that makes sense in what Kubler-Ross described and it may mirror our experience.

However, I think a more fluid and less linear approach may be more helpful. For example, we might continue to operate with some form of denial even as we experience acceptance. Though they may sound contradictory, in our day-to-day experience they may operate together. For example, as I accept the death of a loved one, I still may experience, at times, shock or a sense of denial that she is not there when I turn to talk her or I may expect her witty comeback in a conversation.

I think this is where the beauty lies in using creative tools and resources as we journey with our grief. Generally, these tools are not linear and ask our logical brains to quiet down. When we’re in this creative space, we can touch on internal resources to sit with our grief and help us make meaning in a new way. We can explore where our grief or anger resides within our body and how that might help us to discover ways that we can feel better. Or we can create a new self-portrait that shows how the shattered pieces of our former lives are pieced back together in new ways.

These creative approaches to being with grief are at the core of the Creative Grief Studio’s program and woven throughout the work that I do as a grief coach. Please reach out if this sounds like it will be helpful to you. Also, know that the back and forth / highs and lows of grief are a normal part of this very circular and spiraling process.

Wishing you abundant peace!

Honoring the Past and Re-imagining the Future: Menopause and Grief

Honoring the Past Re-imagining the FutureI’m so thrilled to co-facilitate a Summer Playshop, through the Creative Grief Studio, called, “Honoring the Past and Re-imaging the Future.” Beth Newman and I have collaborated to bring you a 100% online Playshop that explores our journey through menopause and the feelings of grief that we sometimes encounter as we reflect on lost opportunities and our aging bodies.

We hope you’ll join us for the live call on Thursday, August 13th, at 1:00 p.m. CT / 2:00 p.m. ET. If you can’t attend the live call, it will be recorded and you can listen at your convenience and join us for the discussions and sharing that will happen in the online classroom through August 20th.  Register today!

Does the intersection of creativity and grief sound like an area you’d like to explore further? If yes, contact me for grief coaching either in-person or online or explore the Creative Grief Studio’s offerings!

Wishing you abundant love and light as you journey with grief and life’s transitions!