In teaching yoga, I often cue to notice the expansion and contraction of the body with the inhalation and exhalation. Each inhalation expands us not only physically, but also mentally in opening our minds with a fresh view and spiritually in growing us into who we have the potential to be, blessed with another moment of life. Then with the exhalation, our body contracts and draws in. We literally let go and relax. The breath is such a great illustration of what our bodies do naturally just to deal with life. We can’t breathe in all of the air we will ever need at one time; that would be too much for our system. We have to take in the nourishing life force sips at a time.
When I am working with a client who is attempting to cope with grief, I frequently get asked by the patient at some point if I believe they are “going backward” or if they are “going crazy”. This comes from our need to deal with overwhelming circumstances a little at a time.
In his book, In An Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine calls this natural tendancy ‘Pendulation’. He states, “pendulation is about the innate organismic rhythm of contraction and expansion”. He goes on to tell us that we are gradually opening more and more with every expansion. It is a “rocking back and forth between these polarities. It softens the edge of difficult sensations such as fear and pain.” Our brains naturally flow into and out of what we are attempting to deal with in order to allow us to tolerate it without becoming too overwhelmed.
This is important when we are feeling that we cannot go on any longer. And it explains the experience of “some days I am ‘fine’ and some days I can’t seem to function”. Our natural rhythm of flowing into and out of challenge/pain and relief reminds us that NOTHING lasts forever. We can make it through if we just remember that and take it a few breaths at a time. This helps us to remain resilient, to steady ourselves, and then to be able to make it through the next wave of whatever feelings, thoughts, experiences are coming at us.
The experience of grief is unpredictable and weaves into and out of various emotions and thoughts. Many people will come to a therapy session and say, “I thought I was better, but then I took a U-turn and wasn’t able to deal with anything for a few days”. At one point, we (meaning the field of psychology) attempted to put grief into a linear order of stages, but in my experience, I have found that this is not how it works.
This illustration works for many of our experiences in life. We expect them to go one way, and inevitably, we experience a totally different version than we had planned out in our heads. We may even end up in the same place, but because we did not get there the way we had envisioned, we- usually somewhere along the way- see it as a failure.
We must let go of our expectations of how our experiences and our lives are going to go. Our bodies know what they are doing. We should trust them to take us into and out of the levels of challenge and pain that we can tolerate. We must let our bodies do what they instinctively and wisely know how to do without interfering based on our cognitive assumptions.
Notice your own ebb and flow in dealing with grief or any other overwhelmingly strong or stressful experience. Trust your body to lead the way. Allow yourself to breathe and notice the expansion and contraction. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling and just keep going. Nothing lasts forever. Although after dealing with the loss, you may not be who you once were, you will still be you.
Grief comes in many forms and from many causes. You may be grieving the loss of a loved one, opportunities missed, a relationship, or even dreams that never came true. Loss is hard and unpleasant, but remember that nothing lasts forever and the more you allow yourself to be where you already are, the more you will grow and heal.
You can do it, my friend.
And as always, I am right here with you.
Talk again soon,