What I'm Writing About
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All original content on this blog is copyrighted by Bobbi Jean Ewing.
reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3
Is grief good *or* is “good grief” an oxymoron, a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction?
Members of my family of origin used to and probably still do say “good grief” to express frustration, exasperation, annoyance, and those such feelings. I didn’t realize this was a family idiosyncrasy until my older sister’s college boyfriend, who came to visit at Christmastime, pointed it out to us.
I don’t think “good grief” is an oxymoron. In fact, I think grief is good, that experiencing grief is a healthy way to get in touch with and release the pain of the past. I had a good grief experience just this week, like a relief valve that had been holding a lot of pressure finally opened up and out came the grief. Ahhh . . . that felt good.
How did this all come about? Through connecting with and sharing stories of my past. Last Sunday I met with a guy who reached out to me for relationship counsel. He knew I had been married and knows that now I am not and wanted my advice and input on some challenges and strife he is experiencing in his own marriage. I never really considered myself “married.” Our marriage lasted all but a series of weeks, but I was in and out of that relationship for nearly 10 years so I do have a lot of history and experience to draw from.
As this guy described the conflicts within his relationship – the unresolved and perpetual fighting, his wife’s combative behavior, what sounded to me like the classic behaviors of separation anxiety and the insecurity that ensues – I saw into my own relationship of past, saw into a version of myself and some of my historical patterns that played out in my relationship. (If you’ve read or seen, “A Christmas Carol,” – it was kind of like that).
My relationship had also been one of conflict and strife and I fought passionately because I so wanted my needs to get met, I so wanted to be seen and heard, I so wanted to receive empathy and understanding…I just went about it the wrong way and I was dancing with someone who was not skillful or awake in communication and of course, neither was I. Drawing from lessons of relationship past, I heard myself say to this guy, “something will have to change or it will just be more of the same.” Communication patterns and how we show up in relationship must be up-leveled in a relationship of conflict and strife for there to be peace and harmony and deeper intimate connection and really, it must be up-leveled no matter the kind of relationship for us to move deeper into connection and intimacy with others, to experience deeper love, including with ourselves.
I was rolling this conversation around in my mind as I walked home under the light of Saturn, who is viewed by many as having a fatherly presence in the sky. Standing in my kitchen, I had what I am calling an “Archetypal Ah-hah.” I was thinking about what I said, that “something will have to change or it will just be more of the same” and an image of rams butting heads flashed into my mind. Fighting. Aggression. Locked Horns.
I’ve been moving deeper into astrology study under the guidance of celestial navigator, modern mystic, StarryTeller, and shamanic astrologer, Gemini Brett of More Than Astrology, of whom I’m a huge fan. From my birth chart reading with Brett, I learned that at the time of my birth the moon was in Aries in the Zodiac and in shamanic astrology, moon is our ancestry, our lineage. A moon in Aries means I come from the Aries tribe, a fiery and warrior lineage, and a tribe whose totem is the ram head. That rings true to my fire and my passion *and* definitely speaks to the conflict and struggle, the warrior “training” of my youth. And these were not healthy models of fighting, but downright hurtful and destructive. My father was the “worst” and the “best,” showing me all the ways I don’t want to fight and show up in relationship and yet…I had to do that dance and then go out and learn new ways of relating and communicating so I could put down the brutal weapons of my past, of my lineage.
So here I was, standing in my kitchen, butting ram heads flashing into my mind and I got it – I experienced a deeper understanding of the Aries archetype and my lineage. Thursday, 7/16/15, Pluto in Capricorn squared my Aries moon. This particular transit is unique to me and my chart – it is how the alignment of the planets in the sky are relating to and interacting with my celestial fingerprint. Ok, so I’ve got Pluto squaring my moon. What does this mean? Gemini Brett says this is a time for me to “know Aries,” to “retrieve the warrior goods,” to connect with the “righteous warrior of the Aries lineage,” and through alchemy to “turn led into gold.”
The conversation of Sunday past was a real gift, an opportunity to see into my lineage and to do just as Gemini Brett advised, to “know Aries.” And in synchronicistic fashion, because I live in a land of synchronicity, I had another very significant recollection of how the ram has showed up in my life, of how deeply connected I am to the Aries lineage.
My dad, that vicious, brutal character who was my earthly father, raised sheep. When it was time to breed the ewes and make lambs, he’d bring a ram to our property. I was four or five years old on one of these occasions and somehow I found myself out in the field with the ram. It charged at me, butt me with its head, and knocked me to the ground. I got up and it knocked me down again. I tried to run away, but it ran after me, butting me down over and over and over. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t get away. I didn’t think I was going to make it. My older sister was watching (I have no solid memory of her presence, but know she was there through her own retelling). She screamed out for help and my dad ran onto the scene and with a Godlike presence swooped me up, like the strong, warrior man that he was and saved my life. My dad, my earthly father, the one who hurt me so much with his hands and his words, pretty much until the day he died, saved my life. He gave me life AND he saved my life.
In one telling of my story this week, I felt the flood of emotion start to move from deep down inside and I let the good grief flow.
On 9/9, the day before my 38th birthday, I started to see a new friend / connection for acupuncture treatments. I was going through a bout of insomnia and experiencing (again – *sigh*) a surge of mysterious twitches and pulsations in muscles around my body. I chose to start treatments on 9/9 for two reasons: 1) to me, the date represented balance and alignment and 2) my intention was to start my 38th year with balanced energy, in energetic alignment.
After I scheduled my first appointment, I heard a little voice in my head, a voice that is very likely my voice of intuition, tell me that these treatments were going to provide holistic healing and more specifically, an opportunity to heal a little wound I have with this friend.
Visit 5 – there I am on the table, face down, needles in my back, body literally punctured. My acupuncture guy steps back into the room minutes after pushing firmly on tender spots around my shoulder blades and gently inserting needles into those same tender places. He tells me he just had an intuition hit, that right now is not the time to start a specific aspect of treatment as discussed and planned. The energy inside and around me immediately started to shift, feeling very heavy and thick. My little wound had just been punctured.
When I got home later that evening it hit me. I had a simultaneous flash of insight and an intense somatic knowing as I connected the surface wound to the original core wound and the series of wounds that came in between. As it hit me, the grief rose from the depths of my core and came out in sobs. By putting needles in tender, vulnerable spots in my body and inadvertently pricking the surface wound by sharing his intuition hit, my acupuncture guy released the energy block sitting on top of these wounds, creating an opening for an up chuck of grief.
The wound that was punctured is the wound of no choice. It was not my choice for my 10 year relationship to end. It was not my choice, just one year after my relationship ended, for ties to be severed with my best friend of 15 years. It was not my choice for a new romantic relationship to not be given space and time to blossom into the relationship I so wanted it to become; and in addition to that, to be bewildered, frustrated, and hurt that he moved away / “ran away” without communicating.
In each of these experiences, I had no choice; I had no sense of power. The “termination” of each of these relationships was decided for me, I was “abandoned,” and I had to live with ensuing pain and grief created by the choices made by the other person. And with my acupuncture guy, he had also made a choice that was not my choice in our history and here again in the clinical setting. That’s the thing with wounding, the heart recognizes the likeness and feels the prick, the stab, the pain.
Sure, it was painful for me that night of the up chuck of grief to connect with the core wound, to see a pattern of wounding in my life, but it is such a blessing and a gift to release deep grief still trapped in my body and my being. I knew there was potential for holistic healing with my acupuncture guy, but this release far exceeded anything I had envisioned. I feel strongly that this release occurred because of our history and though there is a tiny wound there, the wound is a gift that continues to inspire healing, continues to challenge me to work through the pain and patterns of my own wounding.
I need more healing around my little surface wound, but I am so grateful for the emotional healing of my deeper wounds, so grateful for the safety and trust we have cultivated together that is allowing for deeper healing. And my intuition tells me there is a divine intelligence guiding this process, creating little places of friction and pricking at the surface to get at what’s deeper underneath.
It’s March. It’s been March for the last 22 days. I never know from year to year what emotions will bubble to the surface in March or how long the bubbling will last, but something always stirs in me in March and to varying depths and degrees.
Some time in early March I started thinking of those I’ve lost in my life to death – all of my grandparents, my brother, my dad. I was remembering the last weeks of my maternal grandma’s life, her sadness that her life was being cut short by untreated breast cancer that spread to her organs. Once the cancer metastasized in her organs, she declined fast. I have a vivid memory of her saying to me, “there was still so much I had planned to do…I haven’t even finished your quilt.” My grandma had such an amazing work ethic and was never idle, making it especially hard for her to let go and accept that she was leaving things unfinished.
A sense of my own mortality was very present on my mind. I ruminated on the fact that we have a limited shelf life, that our hearts only beat so many beats and then it’s over. I was feeling depressed about aging and expressed to others often, “I don’t like it.” I was keenly aware of those around me that are at a more advanced place on the life spectrum. I was filled with dread, with despair. I am quite sure I expressed out loud (or maybe I just said it in my mind), “this is what we have to look forward to?”
I imagined how difficult it would be for me to lose my mom, especially when I’ve worked so hard to strengthen our relationship and am still very much in need of mothering. My heart yearns for mothering, for nurturing, for nourishment. I was imaging that if my mom died at this point in my life that it would be especially painful for me. I was feeling a lot of pain just imagining losing my mom; I got choked up sharing these thoughts, my imaginings, with a friend.
It finally clicked for me why my mind had traveled to such a grim place.
My brother died 15 years ago today, March 22. I was a senior in college. My brother was 27 years old. He died after a four and a half year battle with brain cancer that in the end spread down his spine. My brother was such a fighter, hardly ever complaining or grumbling about his illness. My brother had a very strong faith in God and a belief in heaven; he was an inspiration to others and touched many lives.
My dad died 3 years ago on March 11. My dad was not especially old when he died. He was 64 years old. Over the last 10 years and more of my dad’s life, he declined physically and mentally from Myotonic muscular dystrophy. My dad was amazingly strong in his body. As a young man he was a championship wrestler. One of my dad’s doctors said of my dad in the last years of his life, “he has the constitution of a horse.” Because of his incredible strength, my dad actually lived quite a long life.
The numerical parallel of my brother’s and dad’s death dates is not lost on me and has forever solidified their death dates in my mind.
Somewhere in my circuitous ruminations on death and mortality I arrived at thoughts of the last breath. I’ve not been with anyone during their dying moment, their final breath. I was imaging what it might be like. I was imaging the pain of witnessing a life slip away, witnessing a life coming to an abrupt stop, the heart wrenching and instant shock or grief that sets in when someone you love passes. I was also imaging the beauty of holding and being present with a loved one during their last breath, that moment when the whole body lets go, when the body completely surrenders, when the struggling and suffering is over. I was imagining the peace and stillness of this moment, the beauty.
A woman in my yoga teacher training program just lost her brother-in-law to cancer. On Friday of this last weekend she shared with our group that she said her good-bye to her brother-in-law earlier that day. Witnessing her grief stirred some things in me and undoubtedly prompted thoughts of the last breath. On Saturday, she and I engaged in a heartfelt dialogue about the beauty of the last breath, of being with someone at the end. I shared my newly discovered desire to be with someone for their last breath. I want to embrace both the pain and the beauty. I want to hold and support someone at the end.
On Sunday our teacher led us in pranayama, or breathing practice. Being fully present with and observing my own breath was very meaningful. Holding my hands on the rib cage of one of the woman in our group as part of a breathing exercise and feeling her lungs fill and expand with air…it was so intimate, so beautiful. Our breath is so precious. Our life is our breath and without breath there is no life.
At the end of our pranayama practice I commented to our teacher and the woman whose brother-in-law was dying that our practice was especially meaningful given our discussion of the last breath the previous day. Our teacher echoed our sentiments of the beauty of the last breath and added, “our last exhalation is the completion of our first inhalation – we finish our first breath.”
In remembrance of my brother, Doug, who would be 42 years old if he were alive today, and my dad, Bob, after whom I was named (Bobby Gene was his nickname as a kid).
A little over a month ago I began taking a course in non-violent communication, also known as compassionate communication. When I share this news with folks who have not heard of or are unfamiliar with non-violent communication (NVC), I see confusion on their faces and/or hear confusion or curiosity in their voices as they try to understand what “violent” communication might look like or sound like.
“Violent” communication in this context does not refer to explosive or abusive language. Statements such as “you are making me angry” or “stop pressuring me” or “I feel disrespected” are examples of “violent” communication. In each of these statements the speaker is not articulating a feeling, but instead makes a judgement of another person veiled as a “feeling.” And by saying “you are making me angry” or “stop pressuring me” the speaker is deferring blame, creating a buffer, and/or not owing what he or she is truly feeling on the inside. I regard much of the language of “violent” communication to be passive aggressive.
What I’m discovering in this journey and practice of unlearning old communication patterns and learning and integrating a new, healthy, compassionate style of communication is how pervasive “violent” communication is in our society. I am sure many folks can recognize their patterns of using the language of “you are ____” instead of speaking from the position of “I feel ____” or “I need ____.” Furthermore, if we bring awareness to our collective patterns, we will hear how commonly people use the words “I feel” paired with a judgment or their perception of reality without even expressing a true feeling.
This journey is revealing to me how disconnected many of us are with our actual feelings and/or how challenged we are to actually speak to our deeper feelings. Using statements “I feel” paired with a judgment not only masks our feelings but further perpetuates our disconnection with our inner most selves. We become so accustomed to saying things like “I feel dismissed” or “I feel misunderstood” that we lose our ability to speak with fluency to our actual feelings; we are challenged to speak to or even name our actual feelings.
Feelings. What are feelings, exactly? Many of us associate a feeling with an emotion that stirs or resides in our inner landscape. But how do we know what a feeling actually is? How do we know what happiness is? gratitude? joy? exhilaration? What do we feel inside that tells us “this is happiness” or “this is gratitude” or “this is exhilaration”? How do we come to pair a body sensation with the word for that feeling? What signals or messages does our body give to us to help us identify or connect to that feeling? What stirs in our emotional landscape that informs us?
In NVC we cultivate self connection with our inner landscape, we cultivate a deeper listening. We listen to our thoughts and we listen to our bodies – both, not just one or the other – to help us identify and inform us of our deepest feelings. We use this listening to get underneath, to get behind historical statements such as “you are overwhelming me” or “I feel let down” or “I do not feel appreciated” to identify what we’re truly feeling and needing or to hear what others might be feeling or needing. Over time and with practice, we cultivate the skills to speak directly to our feelings and needs without falling into old, passive aggressive, judgmental patterns which very often alienate us from others. When we are more able to speak to our inner experience, we are able to own our feelings and needs.
I want to share and draw insight from a distinction that one of the members of my class shared that really resonated with me. He spoke to the ownership of feelings. He shared that to him the statement “I feel sadness” lacks depth of emotion. He articulated that “sadness” expressed in this way is like an object outside of ourselves and not something that is inside of us. He offered that when one makes the subtle shift and expresses, “I feel sad” or “I am sad,” there is a greater depth of feeling because the speaker is naming an emotional experience he or she is having instead of expressing something that could be perceived as outside of themselves. By expressing a feeling in this way the speaker not only owns the feeling, but truly inhabits the feeling.
When we “inhabit a feeling” we are fully present with that feeling, we stay with it, we allow it to fill our entire being, to permeate our inner landscape. Why might we allow ourselves to experience the fullness of a feeling? I can think of two very important reasons. One – happy and joyous feelings grow out of life’s gifts which, in my humble opinion, should be treasured and cherished; we choose to bask in happy feelings, to savor joyous feelings as these feelings are part of the gift. Two – mournful and sorrowful feelings grow out of difficult moments or tragic events that can be, if we choose, life’s greatest teachers; when recognize an opportunity for learning, we choose to stay, we choose to feel fully. When we stay with ourselves, when we “inhabit a feeling,” we develop greater authenticity. When we stay with others and receive their feelings, we cultivate harmony and connection.
“Learn to stay.” ~ Pema Chödrön
I bow to Karl, my teacher and model in NVC. I greatly admire and respect Karl’s exemplary skills and gifts.