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Men and Grief (Part 2)

March 11, 2010 7 comments

Greetings from a sunny but cool day in Colorado. While the outdoors calls to me and Spring beckons from just a few days away I feel compelled to sit at my screen and write part 2 of what I began on Tuesday. And there is much to explore!

I hope everyone has a chance to connect with a comment I received on Tuesday’s post from Joseph Gelfer. He offers an extraordinarily thoughtful article from the “Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality” for which he is the Executive Editor.  The specific article is:   “Men, Loss and Spiritual Emergency:  Shakespeare, the Death of Hamnet and the Making of Hamlet” by Peter Bray.

In his article Mr. Bray explores grief in the context of Shakespeare’s losses (11 year-old son, Hamnet, and father) around the time he writes “Hamlet.” His other major framework for this exploration is the work of Stanislav and Christina Grof in the areas of pre- and perinatal psychology and transpersonal psychology. There are three elements of this article I would like to pursue today.

The first is a classification of grief itself and human response to grief into what Mr. Bray describes as a spectrum ranging from “instrumental grieving” to “intuitive grieving.”  These poles correspond respectively to masculine and feminine approaches; men tend to “prefer ‘problem-focused’ strategies to manage their grief” while women are “generally more accustomed to attending to their emotions and more able to carry out the tasks defined in grief work,” an approach “shown to be marginally more effective.” Essentially men tend toward what I’ve referred to as “stuffing” their grief, getting back to work, on-task, buried in the daily activities of “normal” life; women tend to go into their grief, work with it, perhaps in a grief workshop or bereavement group. The most interesting point of Mr. Bray’s classification approach is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence to indicate which strategy is more effective; in fact, “neither gender’s assigned coping strategy in adjustment to grief has yet been conclusively proved superior to the other.” For me this is surprising. But the evidence is thin because men don’t talk much about their grief. This leads me to my second point.

Mr. Bray concludes his well researched and deeply thoughtful article with a call for more research and better tools and means to offer men who find themselves in what Grof labels “Spiritual Emergency,” often triggered by loss.  He writes: “there is little awareness in our communities of what consciousness transforming crises as a result of loss might be like for men and it is suggested that such deeply personal events go largely unreported or unrecognized.” Yes, this is my whole point in these posts on “Men and Grief” – we don’t do it well, we don’t have the tools or skills, we are not guided, we don’t talk about it and we don’t even have a base of literature and research to draw from when (or if) we seek help! As men we don’t know how to grieve effectively. So, do we go to war instead?

The third element I would like to point to from Mr. Bray’s observations is the work of Stanislav Grof which forms the structure for much of the article. It is Grof’s explorations and his technologies for inner work which may hold at least one of the keys to reaching a better understanding of loss and grief and finding better ways to cope with these spiritual emergencies. This approach has helped me in my personal life in dealing with loss.  Inner work takes many forms and I have explored many, including Grof’s holotropic breath work. It is this inner work, which can range from passive moving toward emptiness meditation to active breath work, writing, chanting, dancing, drumming, sweat-lodge experiences, that can lead to deeper healing and deeper understanding of human reality:  “consciousness reality” which extends far beyond the “consensus reality” of our “normal” lives.

There are many ways and tools to help us cope with grief. I will explore those I’ve experienced in tomorrow’s post with the hope that one or more may help you deal with your loss. And we all have loss to deal with.

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