Reflection, Grief and Putting on the Brakes.
Sitting now at the end of the year, it feels as though the spin cycle of the washing machine is slowing down. Optimistically, I might it say the cycle is coming to an end. But as it ends, there is still that basket of wet clothes to deal with. The ‘drying’ stage has to occur if we want to wear those clothes again.
Right now I’m feeling a little like the basket of wet clothes – a little worn out, and not fully functional just yet. I don’t expect I’m the only one.
As I reflect on all the change of this year, right now feels like a kind of grief I need to sit with. There hasn’t been time to fully adjust to any of this change, we’ve simply had to roll with it. Although our intelligent human system adapts and keeps going, from a health perspective we know that big processing is going on underneath. And this needs to be honored.
As smart as our bodies may be, the more we suppress a feeling or attempt to ignore mental disturbance, the bigger the monster becomes and manifests at a later time in unforeseen ways.
So for me, reflection and sitting with this grief is high priority now. I’m looking at it as my friend and a teacher – not something to be feared. The grief of what we have let go of might be different for each of us – sometimes small and at other times profound. How we process it might also vary.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It brings out regret, relief, confusion, anger and other emotions that were not ready to be processed at the initial moment of shock. The shock this year has been long and sustained. And has highlighted that we have no real certainty of what lies ahead. Comfort in discomfort. Challenging.
Acknowledgement of what has been let go of seems important if we are to move forward in all our capacity – as individuals and a collective.
Suffering is the inherent human condition but understanding how to navigate it is the superhuman challenge of now. This is where the philosophy of Yoga steps in – its goal is to reduce the suffering of the mind.
First we need to recognize that things have changed otherwise we just go back into life pretending this year was a small ‘hiccup’. Impermanency is one of the biggest challenges of humanity. We cling to what doesn’t change because the fear of the unknown is often too great. Stepping into that fear can be liberating if we have the courage to do it.
The philosophy of Samkhya originated in the Vedic period along with Yoga and is helpful in allowing us to recognize suffering. Samkhya looks at how the world is organized through evolution and the state of permanence versus change.
It acknowledges three types of suffering (duhka) and the level of control we have over each.
- Self inflicted Suffering – this can be of two types (body and mind): some control is possible for us.
The body may suffer because we don’t live according to our body’s constitutional needs. For example, a lifestyle pattern of excessive drinking or smoking that causes us to become unwell, lack of physical activity, overconsumption of food or eating wrong food that may lead to health issues. Generally – not looking after your body despite it being the vehicle that keeps you going!
The mind suffers because we disconnect from what is beneficial and instead connect with what causes us to suffer – often because if fleetingly feels good.
A misaligned belief that something is a particular way when it is actually the opposite is an example of how the mind can self-inflict suffering.
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a lack of clarity (avidya) is the main cause of suffering for the mind. It is the basis of the klesas (causes of suffering) Yoga evolved as a practices to create a deep link back to our self awareness. With self awareness we are more likely to act with clarity.
2. Suffering inflicted by other agents: we have less control
This is when others cause us to suffer. It’s true we cannot control what other people do or how they act but we can choose to create an appropriate response or a view that lessens the suffering we might experience.
An example could be blaming an injury sustained through an accident on another party and never being able to reconcile the anger or despair we feel over this. Healing is impeded. Instead, could we come to an acceptance of the situation and look at moving on towards healing our self?
I see this finger pointing around me right now over Co-vid – blaming countries, blaming politicians – looking for someone to hold responsible for being ‘locked up’ and losing a way of life. Perhaps this is a form of grieving for them? And being able to blame someone else brings back that feeling of partial ‘control’ – when in fact we are probably really feeling far from that. If we look a little deeper into the anger and disappointment it often sits right in our own psyche.
Not a result of what someone else may have done – but because of our own interpretation of the situation, lack of understanding and fear. Lashing out at others is often easier than looking within at our own behaviour or feelings. But it doesn’t create a solution to our own suffering.
3. Suffering inflicted by fate or nature: least control.
The weather, climate change and all changes in nature that cause us to suffer come under this one. Bushfires, floods, tsunami, cyclone. All these are out of our hands. Pandemics would come under this one too! In ancient times, acts of God would have been included here.
Being affected by something over which we have virtually no control is probably the biggest challenge of all for our Western minds. We have been born into a privilege that affords the attitude of ‘I can do’, ‘I should have’. Some might argue this is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place.
This year has given us a gentle reminder that we are not the masters of the world we live in – just inhabitants!
So as we look to moving forward, have we come into a full acceptance of what we have just gone through? Is it time to let the walls down for a moment, to reflect, let ourselves feel and take a step forward with a new reverence for the world and our place in it?
For me, there will be a little grief, consciously letting go and shedding some old patterns, ways of thinking – doing things a little differently moving forward. And as I move through that – some optimism and gratefulness over what I have right now.
I’m ok with ‘hanging the washing out’, giving it some time to dry. No expectation of when that might happen or when I may be able to wear those clothes again.
Perhaps we all need to give ourselves the grace to step back, take time out and sit. Like any form of grief, there will be new light and hope at the end eventually. But we can’t rush to that without expressing what has been lost first.
Sit with yourself, with the breath and take some time to let the process unfold – in your way.
Namaste, Jill x