Grief is a sacred journey

Dear Anxiety: It’s Time for A Heart-to-Heart Talk

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DSC09395I know you’re scared. How could I not know when I wake up in the night with a knot of fear in my gut? I know you’re worried about the world. I know you’re uneasy about a future that feels out of control. I feel you grasping and holding tight, but that won’t help.

You want to protect Vic’s ancient mom from a government that doesn’t care for the aging and infirm. You want to protect the environment. You want to protect your sons. You want to protect yourself.

You seek safety in an unsafe and unpredictable world, but you forget. Life was always unsure and full of surprises.

Take a deep breath and look around. We’re OK right now. You remember all those teachings you’ve absorbed for a life time, the ones that say you only have now, this present moment? That’s all we ever had, even if we pretended otherwise.

Venerable Bohm Hyu Sunim (Korean Zen master)

Venerable Bohm Hyu Sunim (Korean Zen master)

Yes, the boat rocks and teeters, but remember what my brother said a few weeks before he died. You were anxious then, too. “I don’t worry about the big picture,” he said. “I just take the next step, the one I know how to take.”

Scared belly, trust that we know how to take the next step.

Meditate every morning and more as needed. Find inner quiet. There’s nothing better to do right now. It’s the medicine that brings balance.

When you look out the windows toward the forest, notice the tallest pine above the canopy. Remember how that pine connected you to the earth after Vic died. Let it connect your heart to the heavens now. Let it root you in the earth.

DSC03225When it’s all too much and nothing helps, walk. Long walks, uphill walks, walks intense enough to breath hard and open the belly.

Tend your dreams. Remember the one from last week?

I see a table covered with lit candles, warm light, golden light. “I love the candles,” a woman says to me. I don’t know her or see what she looks like, but I know I can trust her.

DSC09446Bask in the soft light of this woman who brings stillness and hope. She’s bigger than we are. I imagine her as the Great Mother of us all.

DSC09449-001The hook of fear is embedded deeply in the whole country, the whole world. The wobbling seesaw needs weight on the calm end. Take refuge in meditation practice. Take refuge in dream guidance. Take refuge in family and community. Yes, take action, too, but take refuge in inner peace while you act.

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes said, “We were made for these times.

I’m  here with you, little anxious one. Let sobs shake the belly loose. Let me cradle you like a frightened child.

Let’s light a candle in the darkness of our fear.

***

Are you wrestling with anxiety and fear, too? Do you have practices that help you let go and find peace within? For another post about working with fear, see I Thought I Could. For a post about meditation with a master, see How is a Buddhist Monk like a Butterfly?

 

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29 Comments
  1. Elaine, I so needed your words tonight as I sat here frightened and sad for what is going on personally, in our country and in our world. So many I have talked to feel the same. Thank you for these helpful reminders.

    • Thanks for responding, Mary. Of course, you know I’m writing this to myself. And this morning I had to talk myself into sitting on those meditation cushions, looking out at the big trees, and breathing in my belly. We all need a huge exhalation. Sending you love.

  2. Thanks Elaine very much. My morning meditation helps I think – if I attain a moment of quiet and connection in the 20 min then this is worth a 1000 moments. And walking in nature usually brings some calm. A lit candle has its own soothing and calming sense. And one’s own dream – one’s own inner guide – such a great gift to us all if we were to accept it.

    • It’s nice to read your comment, Susan. I noticed that during the worst parts of grief, it was sometimes easy to contact inner stillness. Grief kept me in a deep quiet place. Now I think I have to take care of everything again and the mind jumps from place to place. Some days on those meditation cushions, all I can do is watch frog mind, but usually there are moments of stillness and relaxation. Walking works for me every time. I’m grateful for three appearances of a new feminine dream guide. She brings simple quiet messages, such as loving the candles or talking to me about a new room I haven’t used so far.

  3. This is very beautiful and helpful, Elaine. Thank you very much for what you wrote, as well as for that link to the piece by Pinkola Estes. (Do you know when that was written? Is it in response to very recent events, or from an earlier time?)

    Let me add two more suggestion to your list. Besides meditation, walking in nature, and tending dreams, and taking refuge in community, one thing I have found very helpful is to engage on a daily basis with some form of creativity — whether that’s writing (which you are obviously doing, and wonderfully) or music or dancing or painting, or whatever form is most natural to each of us — or several of them! And, of course, the point is not to create “great art,” however we define that. The purpose is to feel the enlivening power of reflection and expression — it always takes me out of my small self and connects me to something so much greater, lighter, brighter.

    The other suggestion to add to your list is to do something for others — even something as tiny as giving greeting and a smile to a stranger on the street, or taking a moment to send a blessing to an ailing friend. Again, this takes me out of my worried, anxious little self where I can see things from a higher perspective.

    Thank you again, Elaine. You’re a light — keep shining!

    • Thank you, Laz. Because I keep my blogs focused, I didn’t bring in all possibilities, including the two you suggested. They are big helpers so thank you. I hope people will keep making suggestions.

      I write or journal every day, but also need something less focused on thinking. It helps when I work with color, paint, create mandalas in nature, create ritual alone or with friends. When I could hear, I played music and danced. Now I sometimes dance to music in my head. I agree it helps to reach out to others who are struggling and try to be of service. The week after the election, there was nothing better than spending many hours volunteering at hospice. I’ll be there tomorrow, too. Here we have active food kitchens and I know a few who took refuge in helping there. It’s good to reach beyond my own tight belly into the tight belly of the world. We’re in this soup together.

      I shared the Pinkola-Estes article in the past. I just found the date of Jan 28, 2008 for one publication of the article. I think the first, but I’m not sure. I could have used it in 2008, but didn’t know it then.

  4. These words resonated deeply: “Meditate every morning and more as needed. Find inner quiet. There’s nothing better to do right now. It’s the medicine that brings balance.”

    I try to begin each day with meditation. Today it was an Old Testament Psalm: “My times are in thy hand . . . “(Psalm 31:5). In these anxious times, I trust in the faithfulness of God, not in the plastic dance of circumstance. His promises are the star I steer by, giving my life direction through turbulence.

    By the way, I love that you dance to music in your head and help in hospice care. And I like the savory soup metaphor too! You are a conduit for blessing – taking in and giving out.

    • Thank you for sharing your morning meditations. You bring me back to my childhood tradition which came through my paternal grandma (Edna Ziola Munderbach) who loved hymns and biblical wisdom. No one else in my family was interested to scripture and hymns, but when a crisis comes, the words of the 23rd Psalm appear in my heart and mind. A comfort and solace. Psalm 31:5 is a perfect reading for these times–and without you, I wouldn’t have known. Thank you, Marian, for your mix of deep faith and tolerance.

      I’ll spend tomorrow volunteering at Hospice. I love leading bereavement workshops and did one this fall for my local hospice and one at a neighboring hospice, but when I volunteer in the office, I feel close to the incredible people who work there. They are a special, inspiring breed.

  5. Thank you, Elaine. I have always suffered from anxiety, and it seems worse now. Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath.

    • I’ve always tended to be on the high-strung side myself, Lynne. Vic was a lovely balance to that. He had his own anxieties, but they were different from mine. Yes to breath, breath, breath, and whatever brings us back to a loving calm heart. Thanks so much for taking time to comment.

  6. Your brother was so right Elaine. That’s how I’ve learned to get by, one day at a time or I’m driven with anxiety with ongoing problems and fear of the world in its current and upcoming state,
    I so understand ‘scared belly’, I’m living it.
    Deep breaths help and trying not to worry about what comes after tomorrow is a hard lesson I’m still trying to manage. 🙂

    • My brother was right, Debby, and that attitude kept him calm. He was good with a way to cope with each day. I was glad to help a little with a wider view of the obvious outcome of his illness.
      I hope you have good ways to soothe your scared belly. I imagine your husband’s health is a constant worry on top of this wild uncertain world. The challenging lessons keep coming to show us we are strong and also fragile.

  7. A beautiful post, and I’m glad you’ve been able to find some stillness and peace in the midst of things that cause pain and unease. The ability to do just that, I believe, is what enables us to survive and move through times of crushing sadness or strain. I find that just as important as being alone to experience even a brief moment of calmness and peace is being in community, helping others as one commenter mentioned above, and realizing that painful experiences can help bring people closer together.

    As an aside, one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in recent memory is getting together with other people to color in adult coloring books. We all felt a calm settle in the room where we were, each of us working alone, yet surrounded by others in a community of strength and support.

    • Thank you, Amy. I agree. My life can lean toward aloneness since the death of my husband and also because solitude is needed for writing, but I make an effort to stay strongly connected to community and family.

      Thanks also for bringing in adult coloring books. I’ve met with a mythology class for 25 years. We often paint together or do other art projects such as collage associated with what we’re studying. It’s one of the calmest and most settling things we do together. When my husband died, I kept watercolors and pads of paper open on the kitchen counter so I could paint each night. I focused on dreams and myths that spoke to my experience. When I felt lost and broken, painting and drawing connected me to a calm inner world where something in me knew how to stay afloat. Another way to stay centered at hard times!

  8. Needed to hear this at this time and in this night. Thanks. Namaste.

    • Thank you for taking time to comment, Charles. I needed to hear this message, too, and remind myself of what I know how to do to balance our wild world. Namaste.

  9. I hear you.

  10. This one is so very special. Especially for me. It was one lengthy tide of prayerful summons. I am so fortunate to have you as my sister!

    • Thank you, Dennis. Yes, a prayerful summons to myself as well as others to do what we can to encourage hope and peace in the world and our lives. I also thank you for allowing me to be your honorary sister which is more important than ever with my biological brother on the other shore.

  11. I read this shortly after I published my own blog (on the same day!) and I was struck by the fact that we wrote about the same thing. Different approaches, but many of the same conclusions. When the big picture is too much, we just have to stay on the path, one foot in front of the other. And breathe. And be grateful. Some days it is all I can manage.

    • Kara, I think you mean your piece “Why I Believe (in Santa).” I read it and loved it. It’s up on my browser because I wanted to make a comment, but I haven’t done that yet. Weekends are for catching up. I agree we reach the same conclusions. My approach might have been more similar to yours if I had kids at home. They were brought up in relatively quiet times. Your son’s perspective leads the way and keeps us grounded in the present moment and goodness of life. Gratitude, breath, and hope–and a vigilant eye to watch what the new government actually does in our name. Uncertain times and much gratitude.

  12. I vacillate between fear and fierceness, Elaine.

    I love what you say to your anxieties. I have learned from you to speak to my own body and spirit. I am lighting a candle regularly and trying to breathe. I am also remembering more of my dreams, if fleetingly.

    I read what I can of the headlines, then I make a list of heroes and heroines. I watch movies about moral courage.

    It helps also to give. Puts us in touch with gratitude, something you always excel in.

    • Thanks, Shirley. Those anxieties are unruly forgetful children, so I have to repeat the messages many times a day. Active Imagination showed me how effective it could be to have a conversation with a part of myself that gave me trouble. There’s always some part of me that needs a conversation with a more reasonable voice. I had a fascinating dream around 4 am this morning. Instead of writing it down immediately, I went over it in my head to get the details and fell asleep while doing my dream review. I didn’t remember one image when I woke up at 6. Those elusive dreams…

      I like your idea of a list of heroes and heroines. Going through my mom’s scrambled photos, I found images of my parents from 1947, ones I hadn’t seen before. My mom had many heroines and most are ones I admire.

  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you
    Can we be 17 again and just going out on a Friday night? Can the problems of the world be far far from our minds?Can dream about how we can change the world with our ideas? I want to light the candle for the future but I am so afraid that the light will go out and nothing will change

    • Ah, then we’ll light another candle and another and another. I understand, Pam, and I’m not making light of your angst. Were the problems of the world ever far from our minds or do we just imagine it was that way? I still believe in changing the world with ideas and deeds, but now know that it takes a long, long time with unending loops and detours.

      Let’s light a candle for Standing Rock. I don’t know if the chaos is finished there, but I can hope this pause will calm the violence. It was alarmingly reminiscent of the way police treated marchers in the civil right’s movement when we were kids.

  14. I’m taking deep breaths along with you, Elaine. And gathering as much comfort from the gentle world in the woods as I can. Some days it’s best not to turn on the news but rather to walk the nearby trails.

    • I agree, Robin. I never watch or listen to news. I read headlines some days because I don’t want to have my head in the sand. This morning, I walked in my forest the first time since hunting began. (I’d either gone elsewhere to walk or walked in the fields until today.) Orange-vested Willow and orange-vested me. It was great to visit the trees.

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