What is Grief Teaching Us?

This morning, in my sixth week of not working in person with clients and our 5th week of stay at home orders in New Mexico, I taught an online class on emotions and essential oils.

Surprisingly the subject that wasn’t broached — or even really mentioned — was the experience of grief. With the novel coronavirus infecting patients across the world, and the economic and physical shutdown of many businesses across the U.S. and the world, humans worldwide have been experiencing both individual and collective grief in a number of ways. What struck me early on about this illness is that in Chinese medicine, the lungs are the organs of grief and that Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, sometimes even leading to death… and more grief.

Grief is a common human experience. In some way and at some point in our lives, we all experience it. Yet we have a myriad of reactions or approaches to it, and it is very often the last thing that anyone wants to discuss. So why am I bringing it up? Well, if you know me, you know this is just how I roll. 

This holding in our lungs, or the holding of our breath, the inability to take a deep breath with this disease, the difficulty expelling or coughing it up and out, reminds me of grief and how sometimes we hold onto it so fiercely, so we don’t “lose it” in front of other humans, for fear of looking or seeming weak or out of control, or to avoid feeling like a victim or making others uncomfortable.

And then sometimes when we do allow ourselves space to feel and to grieve, we have difficulty expressing it. Such mixed emotions can arise and sometimes we can’t get them out, especially in any expected way that makes any sense. We often experience grief alone. It is isolating in our individual experience of grief. 

Grief comes in waves. You don’t experience it in one moment and “get it all out,” even with a good, long cry. This is interesting, too, that this virus can wax and wane and stick around for awhile, with a fever spiking again or symptoms worsening, even after a couple of days’ reprieve.

I have noticed how humans, as a species in general, have gradually moved away from living in harmony with the natural world over the past few centuries, and how, as a society, we are now more sick, both physically and mentally. This is not a coincidence. We live as if we were separate, from each other, from other beings, from the planet. We even live segregated from the completeness of our beings, from our wholeness of self in the way we resist experiencing our pain, our emotions, or our shadow. 

The fear that arose in the midst of this global pandemic was also intense and widespread. In fear, biologically speaking, we stop breathing as deeply as we otherwise might. We breathe shallow, quick breaths, to oxygenate our limbs, so that we might fight or flee our foe. The directive that most often was on my lips and in my heart at the arrival of this pandemic in the U.S, was “Just breathe,” or “Just keep breathing,” calling my own attention and often the attention of clients, friends and family, back to our own breath. There is immense power in our breath. 

Last year, I was fortunate enough to take a workshop with the marvelous Philip Shepherd, who wrote Radical Wholeness, and teaches ways to reclaim and integrate the fractured parts of self. We experimented with an exercise in breathing and I discovered that I often catch — or used to — often catch my breath when concentrating on another activity. Rather than breathing through an activity, I would abandon my breath, essentially my life force, to focus entirely on accomplishing a menial task. What a silly thing to do!!!

And yet, how many of us might be doing the same thing, unknowingly giving more importance to catching a ball or drawing a picture than continuing to breathe in deeply of our life-giving oxygen? We most certainly do not fill our lungs to their capacity very often, if ever. 

And who amongst us takes the time to slow down and follow their breathing on a regular basis? Or breathe consciously? It’s automated for us so we don’t have to think about it. And yet, when we do, we can clear so much stagnant energy, we can ground ourselves into our physical bodies and bring our whole self into the present moment.

We are experiencing an enormous opportunity in the midst of this sobering time to witness ourselves in such a different way, to allow for the experience of our emotions, to open to what is in each moment, to breathe life into the whole and complex vastness of our beings and show up to each subsequent moment as a little more whole and a little more grounded and a little more wise. And we have the opportunity to make different choices with each moment. 

And so my friends, I say, “Just breathe in and breathe out and choose this next moment wisely.”

(If you or anyone you know is experiencing a state of overwhelm with emotions, please reach out for help. As a health practitioner, I have some tools for assisting with various emotional states, and am also happy to refer someone to a mental health counselor, if the need exceeds my scope of practice. Please know you do not need to feel alone in this.

Here’s a video of an essential oils class similar to the one I taught this morning, if you’re curious: https://youtu.be/EchgGylmmcY. If you’re interested in learning more about essential oils or purchasing essential oils, please contact me.)