A Guest House for Grief

lilyJust under four weeks ago the man who loved me first and loved me longest left. At the age of 80, my father, (who had walked 5 miles 10 days prior) died in hospital due to complications from what was supposed to be a rather simple surgery.

For years in my early career I  counseled people through their grief and loss journey, I read books on the topic, I even took an entire graduate course on the subject but I had never, myself, experienced the crushing pain and the breathlessness and the ‘elephant on the chest’ experience of deep grief.

Driving alone in my car one day not long after the funeral, I found myself with thoughts of dad, much sadness and deep missing. I had just come from lunch where I had already consumed probably one or two more pieces of sushi than my body needed. My knee-jerk reaction linked to my historical response to try to feel better was to rummage through my glove compartment in search of the chocolate flavored protein bar that I knew was there from the day before.

Then just as I was about to tear it open I checked in with my body and it revealed that IT had no interest in more food.  There was no way I could carry on eating and not feel physically yucky and also no way that chocolatey bar was going to help me escape the sadness or do anything about changing the ‘is-ness’ of the moment. I would simply be layering on physical discomfort over top of the inescapable emotional discomfort of grief.

Our lives need to lived, our feelings need to be felt and our griefs need to be grieved. No way over it but through it.

As we befriend the body we begin to see what an offer of friendship it is. The body is always smack in the center of the present moment inviting us in and it is always honest. It does not know how to lie to us. It does not know how to pretend to be hungry when it’s not. It does not know how to justify one more bite through stories of “I deserve it” or “I’ve had a hard moment”. The body only knows how to lead us toward health and vitality if we let it.

Learning the Deeper Cravings way of embracing all that presence offers, even the uncomfortable feelings, teaches us that connection with the body helps us identify the truth of our feelings in the moment. Letting ourselves see what is already there is not the same as creating it, liking it or encouraging it; rather it is allowing for what IS, facing the reality of the moment and thereby truly living our lives.

Honoring that truth of the moment also results in getting honest about our reactions to it. We may still choose to eat or seek other compulsions from time to time in order to cope with our reality when its all we can do but then at least it is from an awake and conscious (and thereby empowered) stance. When we blindly numb in avoidance we are disallowing the fullness of our lives. Rumi says it best:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi

While I don’t presume a ‘new delight’ always comes from loss I do trust in the benevolent unfolding of the Universe and honor that loving life requires a willingness to experience it all. Presence involves the courage to welcome all the ‘guests’. We don’t get to choose the schedule of their arrival nor the length of their stay but we do not live fully until we are willing to stay awake to greet them all.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/jupin/2340648662/”>@chris</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;