Posts Tagged ‘Grief’

Love and Self-Love: Part 2

December 3, 2012 Leave a comment

(Post-Epilogue: Today, November 30, I broke one of my special, probably most precious, Yixing teapots, one that I’ve had with me for years. Another loss, this one more permanent than misplaced reading glasses and a lot closer to my heart. Lesson? Another one; very hard this time? Really? Clearly I am in a fast-paced learning mode at this stage of my journey!)

Self-Love. Not a simple path. Practice Love; begin with self!

It is even difficult to go back to my last post and read my own words on this subject. How do I love self, the clumsy oaf who swept his pot from the counter in an over-exuberant flourish? But life hasn’t stopped and I must Love on!

My first step in working through the lesson today, the loss of another precious object, is to accept impermanence. It’s all just temporary, right? Let go. Yes, of course, grieve the loss. But within the grief is the built-in praise. I can certainly find gratitude for all the years of service the pot gave me. My memories of pouring tea from it, admiring the design, experiencing the beautiful color develop over the years of use are still with me to celebrate. This is another reminder of the cycle in everything; the pot began as dirt in a ditch in China; the dirt was harvested, hopefully with ceremony, thanksgiving and praise; then it was processed into clay, worked, hand-shaped, finished and fired; somehow it made it all the way from China to me safely; and now it returns to dust.

When I worked with micaceous clay in New Mexico with master potter, Felipe Ortega, we experienced the entire life-cycle of the clay. I made several small pots; and while my first attempts were nothing to take pictures of, they were special to me. One of the assignments, we later learned, was to sacrifice a pot to the Holy. We each broke one of our pots against a post as an offering, as a way of giving thanks for the clay and for our hands that shaped the clay, and the Holy who shaped us all. The shards remained in that spot for years afterward. And we each took a shard from that pile of rubble to grind down and incorporated into our next pot; the cycle was unbroken.

I can do this with a shard from my teapot. I can keep it going, giving, by recycling it in a personal and useful way. The object doesn’t go away, it only changes its shape. “Pots are fashioned from clay, but it’s the emptiness that makes a pot work.” – Taoteching, Ch. 11. The pot may be impermanent, but the clay is still there as is the emptiness!

As another step in the learning, can I turn the curse at my ill luck at breaking the pot into a blessing? This is another practice I learned in Bolad’s Kitchen with Martín Prechtel. Oh, yes, I did curse myself, my luck, my inattention, my carelessness, my mindlessness as I watched the pot tumble to the floor and become shards. Then I withdrew before my anger spilled over too far to hit others in the path of my negative energy, the antithesis of self-love. And I went inside for awhile. And as I write I am still processing, learning to do it through words coming from the inside rather than holding it all in where it churns and festers. Where are the blessings that come from this loss? In a sense I have already done some of this work, thanking the pot for its years of service. But what about me? Can I find a way to bless me through this lesson? This is where it gets really hard!

I am here, at the keyboard, writing words that will help me work through the curses that I can’t take back. I am letting go the anger, giving it to the compost heap where it can metabolize back into usefulness rather than metastasize within me. And I can recall the years with the pot and all the use it gave me and the care I gave it during those years; we took good care of each other for a good long time. And I can place the pot in a corner of my mind to remind me to come back, cycle back to the present moment. And I can know that the pot can help me pay attention to everything in the moment; to expand my awareness beyond a narrow focus and take in my environment, appreciating very thing around me and near and dear to me.

So, I bless myself for my deep thought, my appreciation for fine things, my attention to detail and my broad and extraordinary experiences that come together to inform and refine my approach to life, and the impermanence that threads through it All.

And with moist eyes I come back to Love, even self-love as I accept my blessings and learn a bit more about forgiveness.

Men and Emotional Health – Grief

November 9, 2012 Leave a comment

In recent posts I’ve been writing about emotional health and balance. And just yesterday I included some thoughts about balancing yin and yang energies as we go inside to seek guidance, to switch on our internal GPS and determine if any course corrections are needed. In these turbulent times, the waning days of 2012, I’m finding the need to go inside frequently to establish balance and take a close look at my route forward!

And part of what is going on for me, what I’m working on is processing grief. Sometimes I look back on my life and sense that I’ve done a lot of grieving, and of working through the grief that so many men seem to feel. This goes back to the 80s and Robert Bly’s Mytho-Poetic Movement. He was all about the grief process and how little western society allows any real space for this emotion. Another of my teachers, I met him through Robert, addresses grief as one side of a coin; the other side is praise! This comes from Martín Prechtel (see my review of his most recent book).

What Martín offers is very much in keeping with the Taoist approach to transforming emotions to virtues which I addressed here a few days ago. For Taoists Grief is transformed to Inspiration.

Grief is a good way to end this series on the transformation of emotions. We in the west pay much too little attention to this deep emotion. It is our unexpressed, unprocessed, unmetabolized grief, even more than anger, which leads us into wars. Grief leaves us empty if we don’t deal with it. And we then fill that emptiness with aggression. A milder but still potent manifestation of this emotion is Disappointment. Here again we have no good way to process this. We need to learn to transform grief and disappointment to Awe, Inspiration and Praise. Again there is deep Inner Work needed to work through this emotion. Our stories help with understanding. Meditation helps with moving from Grief to Praise, from Disappointment to Inspiration.

Grief is often associated with death, of course. Death is the ultimate loss. When we lose something, especially a loved one, an emptiness opens up that is difficult to fill. When we go inside and touch that emptiness we too often shrink away from it. It is a cold and bitter sensation that we would rather avoid, cover up, fill in, and ignore. None of us likes that hollowness; it is painful!

So, how do we get to Inspiration and Praise from that lonely, empty place? How can we even suggest that there is Praise on the other side of Grief? When we lose someone truly close to us through death, we turn to celebrating a life lived well. We remember shared stories, inspiring moments together, important milestones on our shared journey. We find many ways to praise that life. And from the specific, from that loved one’s life, we can expand to celebrate Life, the larger cycle of Life and Death in the great context of Becoming.

Here we find connection. And through this connection to the Greater we can begin to fill in the empty hole in our middle. This is a lengthy process. It takes time and work, inner work, to reach for the connection; to move into the context of Life. This is where we find Inspiration and reason enough for Praise.

Grief to Praise. It is not an easy route; it takes time (more than the three days offered by businesses to employees for the death of loved ones!). It requires an expansion; the hole in the heart is not filled in but the heart expands to somehow accommodate the hole! Take the time for this expansion process. If you find yourself grieving, whether it’s for the loss of a loved one or some other great loss (job, home, youth, energy, health…) sit with it; touch it gently; move into the emptiness; begin to see the possibility for expansion. Do the inner work, a bit at a time as you can.

And remember to bless yourself in this great work!

A Review of “The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic” by Martín Prechtel

March 22, 2012 4 comments

I recently finished reading Martín Prechtel’s latest book having preordered it and received it on its publication date. My long anticipation of the work and excitement to devour it in wholly massive gulps was only tempered by its importance and my savoring each bite as I moved through the elegant prose poem word by precious word treating each one as a seed for growth and understanding. This is a giant of a book unlike anything else out there. This work is itself an instruction manual for humanity to find an “unlikely peace” in this post-modern, post-everything chaotic world we are waking up to.

In the interest of full disclosure I first met Martín in 2002 at the Minnesota Men’s Conference. I had at that point read his first book, Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, published in 1998. I have since read everything he has written multiple times and will continue to read his books for the rest of my life. Each is built of many layers of information, knowledge and wisdom. And I am currently a participant in his school, Bolad’s Kitchen, in his third group known as the New Sprouts.

That said, The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic is Martín’s most important work yet. It offers me many additional readings as I absorb each layer of the stories and the wisdom much like an archeologist peeling back the compost heap levels of ancient communities to reveal the underlying meaning and cultures that instruct us in ways to build a new community and a new culture in order to keep the seeds alive! These seeds are our seeds if we can find them. In fact these seeds are us. And they are vital to the very survival of humanity.

At first blush the part of the subtitle: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants, sounded a bit strange to me, and intriguing. Martín explains his meaning here very clearly, again in the extraordinarily multivalent way he has of bringing together complex thoughts and concepts into juxtaposition to deepen the understanding of his meaning. Read the book to discover for yourself how true this exploration of people as plants is!

As I read this book I found myself chuckling at the humor in the stories and anecdotes from his time in Guatemala. More often the tears would come as I went through both grief and inspiration as the words sank slowly into my psyche, almost at once plunging me into the depths of despair and rising to the heights of confidence and optimism as I with Martín consider the human condition and our future.

If you have had the privilege of meeting Martín you will hear him, see him and sense his very presence as you read his words. It is so good to have him close, just here on my shelf! And if you have not yet met him this is a wonderful opportunity to begin your journey toward an “unlikely peace” with yourself and your fellow humans! You will meet Martín on this journey.

The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic ended much too soon for me. The work is totally satisfying and certainly complete meeting all the promises of the delicious title and the enticing Part and Chapter titles. I just wasn’t ready to let Martín go; I wanted to keep his voice in my head. So, I went back to his earlier book: The Toe Bone and the Tooth (now published as Stealing Benefacio’s Roses) to again savor that sumptuous feast and retain his voice echoing through my whole body down to the very core, that seed within!

If you have any sense that the indigenous cultures of humanity have something to teach us, if you are interested at all in how we can resuscitate a culture from the mess we are now in, if you have ever prayed for peace, if you love stories, if you are intrigued by the title, if you find yourself wondering where the human family is going, then read this book. It is important. It is powerful. It will make you cry – and laugh. And you will love yourself just a little bit more for having read it!

Men and Grief (part 4)

April 19, 2010 1 comment

I don’t usually post on Sundays but my exchange with Joseph Gelfer on the “mythopoetic men’s movement” has me continuing to think and explore both Joseph’s critique of the movement and my own experiences with it. So, here are a couple random thoughts on the subject:

Over the last couple of days I’ve listened to part of a recording of the 2002 Men’s Conference hosted by Robert Bly in Minnesota. The first full day of that conference was on September 11, 2002, just one year after “9-11.”  Through that listening almost eight years later, I recalled  the feelings of anger, grief, and a remaining disbelief that this had happened. We were encouraged to share all of those emotions and to explore them in the much larger context of the world view of that event. Many of us expressed dismay at the lost opportunity to better ourselves and learn from the event and our responses to it. Most were alarmed at the “saber rattling” and desire for vengeance that seemed to be gripping so much of the nation at that time; the call to war! Grief was at the core of the emotional attitude in that group of 100 or so men. We were experiencing it and getting guidance in how to deal with it. Participants and leaders alike shared in this common and heart-deep sense that the world had changed and we were being called to change with it. At the end of this sharing and grieving we were led to express our feelings in song: “Oh, the distance between us is holy ground.” The words themselves are enough to plunge me into deepest feeling; the sound of a hundred male voices singing with full hearts was an awesome experience; and the sense of separation, among individuals, nations, continents, beliefs, cultures,  melted into holiness.

And if you have been reading the exchange between Joseph Gelfer and me about the “movement” I offer this poem about archetypes and development which came to me the other day:

Wounded Man

Wounded healer,
Heal thyself;
Recover that lost piece
Which bleeds in some far place.

Wounded warrior,
Come home now;
Sooth thy fevered brow,
And sing songs of peace.

Wounded holy king,
Rule in peace;
Strengthen thy green land,
And love your people free.

Wounded poet,
Write thy verse;
Create the songs of peace
To heal the warrior-king.

Men and Grief (Part 3)

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

I put a big ding in my relatively new guitar this morning. I usually begin practice while steeping tea. This morning I forgot to set the timer for the tea and got up from my chair, guitar in hand, to set it; not my typical routine. As I turned to go back to practice I banged the guitar’s face into the corner of the the tea cart.

My first reaction was anguish followed immediately by anger, flashing white-hot: anger at the universe for setting this event in motion followed immediately with anger at myself for being clumsy, mindless, out of rhythm…Words were used to express this anger, not peaceful words, not high vibration words I would choose to share with anyone; words spilling mindlessly from an ill-tempered mouth.

I retreated to my “cave” to spare others from my venting, to salve my hurt, to recover some balance. “What is this?” comes easily to mind, long minutes too late, but the question remains hanging over me. My guitar practice, making tea, sharing a moment with Rosemary are all mindfulness practices for me during beautiful new days.  Yet, how quickly I plunged into mindless anger. I went on with my other routines.

I asked during yoga practice: “What is this?” During stretches, asanas and concluding meditation the answer comes: mindfulness practice is exactly this! Whether we are sitting on our cushion, making tea, practicing guitar, lessons arise; thoughts interfere with following the breath, a forgotten timer interferes with the routine of the tea, a dinged guitar brings us up short in our practice and throws us into the ditch of samsara.

I move on to my “morning pages”, a practice recommended by Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way.” I’ve been doing this with reasonable regularity for years; it is very helpful in clearing away the cobwebs of the mind. I sit to write in our sanctuary and ask: “What is this?” And I write of my perfectionist ways, my Enneagram type 1 personality which at the superficial level demands perfection. My guitar is no longer perfect; it is dinged. Oh, it will sound no different in my amateur hands; I don’t play perfectly, so why must the guitar be perfect? The evolved Enneagram type 1 human realizes the world, the Universe is already perfect; it is just the way it needs to be; it just IS. “What is this?” This is a lesson in impermanence.  We live in an entropic Universe; everything tends toward a more natural state of higher entropy: destruction, decay, death are all natural processes with which we live. Guitars get dinged.

I move on to write “a poem for the day”, and ask “What is this?” The wheel turns, more lessons await, always lessons. Practice more, sit longer, breathe into the cycle. Thoughts arise, come back to emptiness; dings happen, come back to emptiness; loss comes, feel the grief; grief arises, find your center, emptiness.

A dinged guitar is a small thing, a small loss. It offers a small lesson for the day. It brings me back to center after a trip or two around the wheel and after some focused practice to understand and accept the ding, my reaction, my work, my return to the breath, to the present moment, all I have, all I will ever have.

I’ve touched on a few practices I find useful in my life of lessons and constant cycling (I hope spiraling) toward “the heart of perfect wisdom.” There are many mindfulness practices, some I use on a daily basis as I’ve illustrated, some like shamanic journeying, chanting, drumming I use less frequently, and others like holotropic breath work, sweat-lodge, fasting I use infrequently for major “spiritual emergencies.” There are as many ways to approach inner work as there are human beings. The importance is to approach it!

Men and grief; many of us don’t do it well. If we have the knowledge and the tools, the wisdom of the grieving process and its importance will surely follow.

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.

Men and Grief (Part 1)

March 9, 2010 2 comments

Yesterday I wrote about men learning how to nurture and explored the role of women in teaching men. And I argued that perhaps it is not up to women to teach us but rather for us to go inside and find our hearts, find our compassion, find our nurturing spirit there.  This is, of course, easy to say. But for many of us it is not so easy to do. And, perhaps there are some stages we need to address, some growth areas to go through before we get all the way to our nurturing spirits.

Men have heart; it is inside them; and they can get in touch with it, frequently do! Too often that heart, that feeling comes bubbling, even bursting out as anger. I’ve encountered angry men much of my life. In fact, again too often, I have been an angry man.  Where does this anger come from? Why are men angry and what are they angry about? I believe a lot of our anger comes from stuffing our feelings, way down deep in our dark places. These feelings are unprocessed, unexamined; they are hidden and raw. They come up and out, flashing and hot, as anger; often we may not even have a particularly good cause behind the anger. It doesn’t take much to trigger repressed feelings. And, anger is the one emotion that it seems safe or comfortable for men to express: “men are men” and can be “rightfully angry.”

But how “grown up” is it to only express our feelings as anger? Is there a more conscious way to behave, a more evolved, higher-vibrational way to express our passion?

A first step is to process feelings rather than stuff them. And I believe one of the primal feelings that men stuff is their grief. There has been a lot of  excellent work done around this subject. Grief is one of the key motivating forces behind the so called “men’s movement” from the early 1980s spear-headed by wonderful men like Robert Bly, Robert Moore, Michael Meade and the other leaders of the mytho-poetic men’s movement. Robert Bly, extraordinary poet and severe critic of the Viet Nam war, all war actually, examined men’s grief in the context of returning Viet Nam veterans. There is a lot of grief about that war on all sides. It usually was expressed as anger, but the underbelly of that anger was grief. There was a shared grief about that whole era from the late 60s on; and a lot of it remains unprocessed, unexamined. And, it’s pretty clear that few lessons were learned by those of us who lived through that time. But in the 80s some of us began to process some of that grief. It is a long process.

Another of my excellent teachers I am so blessed to have in my life, Martín Prechtel, also does a lot of work around grief. He offers a recording that I highly recommend to everyone; it is a deep expression of something I am trying to get at here; “Grief and Praise” is available:

We have much to grieve! Some things are immediate and personal, like the loss of a loved one, a parent, a friend; some may be a bit more distant but no less personal, like the loss of life through natural disasters we seem to be experiencing at an accelerating rate; some may be distant in either space or time, like wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or war in Viet Nam, assassinations; and some may be very distant like our national history of slavery and genocide. Once we start digging there is much to grieve!

In the current issue of “Archaeology” there is an article on “Cloning Neanderthals.” Recent evidence indicates that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were in in contact for several thousand years and there was likely some interbreeding. Neanderthals “disappeared” – became extinct – about 30,000 years ago. Did Homo sapiens have anything to do with that extinction process? We will never know, but I wonder if old stories, like Cain and Abel, are some ancient, “cellular memory” of that evolutionary process. And is part of our interest in bringing Neanderthal DNA back to life in some way motivated by our unexamined grief?

Perhaps I reach back too far. And perhaps there is no reason to reach back very far at all. Grief, like so many things to be examined, is like an onion: as one layer is peeled back another is revealed. And the deeper we examine our feelings, especially grief, the deeper we can experience true and healthy emotions.

There is a lot here; I am far from peeling away the layers to get to compassion. I’ll continue this thread on grief in Thursday’s post.

Meanwhile, how are you in touch with your grief?