Where does your grief live today?
Close your eyes. Take some nice deep breaths, and begin to scan your body with your inner awareness. Where do you feel your grief right now?
It may seem like an odd notion, that the emotion of grief could actually have a physical location. And yet I have found in leading my shamanic griefwork program that on any given day, most people can actually pinpoint it. I ask them to keep a journal and write down the answer to this question once a day. The answers can be very interesting, and they tell us a lot about what’s going on in our grief process.
Why do we do this? The purpose of shamanic griefwork is to use spiritual techniques to help us move through the grieving process with awareness and intention. So it’s useful to take a moment each day to make contact with your grief and give it your direct attention. When you engage with your grief in this simple way, you can track it and gain information about how you’re doing.
Metaphor is the language of the spirit. So what is the metaphoric meaning behind the place where your grief is lingering? Is it stuck in your throat? Perhaps it’s telling you to speak up and express your feelings more fully today. Is the grief in the area of your stomach? You might ask yourself what’s been eating at you lately. Is it up in your head? Perhaps there are painful memories you’ve been keeping at bay. See what your grief has to say to you today.
Often people find that their grief tends to move around. One day it’s in their heart, and the next day it might be in their big toe. But if the grief stays put, it could be telling you that you’re stuck in a particular pocket of the grieving process, unable to move forward. It could be a cry for attention.
Here’s an example. About 10 years after my teenage son died, I suddenly developed asthma at the age of 55, out of the blue. I thought I had successfully completed my grieving process by that time, but some spiritual “excavating” revealed that my own difficulty breathing was deeply connected to the fact that my son suffocated to death.
My grief had gotten stuck in my lungs because of unresolved guilt over the fact that he had died in my own home, where he should have been safe from harm. Once I recognized the metaphor my body was showing me, I could work on healing that painful belief. Within a few months I was asthma-free.
Stuck grief can cause a lot of damage. Think about how many times you’ve heard of someone dying of “a broken heart.” That’s more than a poetic phrase—it can be real. When you are aware of your grief and what it’s trying to tell you, you can address what may be keeping you stuck and continue your healing journey.
Julie Lange is the author of Life Between Falls: A Travelogue Through Grief and the Unexpected (www.lifebetweenfalls.com).