Given the event in Newtown, CT last Friday, I wondered aloud, "can grief ever be good?"
Aside from what happened on Friday morning, this time of year is difficult enough for many people, while also being full of joy and celebration for others. In fact, it's possible it is both difficult AND wonderful for most people. From posts on facebook, more and more people are expressing that this year is particularly difficult for them.
My past experience of grief surely never felt good at all but as I said in a facebook status the other day, I am experiencing a new kind of grieving experience this year--one that actually doesn't feel horrible and in many ways feels very good, indeed. I have come to develop a newfound respect for grief, and all it has provided me.
Perhaps my intimacy with my own grief over the past 10 years helped me manage my feelings about the tragedy at Sandy Hook, CT. I don't feel desensitized from the many violent shootings this past year (and years before), I feel very present with them. I remember watching footage from Columbine when I was in college and feeling the same level of awareness and utter sadness that I felt this past Friday morning. I also feel angry. I feel angry that I was raised to fear black men as the ultimate violent aggressor in my country and instead white men are behind the majority of these mass shootings.
Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders* carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Of the 142 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. Forty four of the killers were white males. Only one of them was a woman. -http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map Now, I grieve misinformation I was fed as a child and continue to be fed today.
I grieve many old stories and old belief systems I was taught at home and in school.
When I endured my first break-up, I grieved the loss of my first love. In the years following that relationship, I grieved revelation after revelation of the person I thought I was, and the experiences I had as a child.
I've grieved jobs that ended, whether on my own terms or not. I've grieved friendships that ended. I've grieved my own identities. My old voice. My body, as it has changed over the years. My relationship to my family.
In every instance, I was fully present with my experience. My Buddhist practice taught me to do that. I read book after book about being present, leaning into the sharp points, not running or grasping (at alcohol, smoking or food). I grasp in a different way, which I'll explain in another blog post.
After years of sitting with grief, I've realized it is indeed a very good process. Sitting in my experience, being fully present with my feelings (all of them, and there are many) has allowed me to become an excellent coach for others who are taking on similar work. The more I am able to be in my own company, no matter what comes up and no matter how impossible things feel, the more I am able to do that for others.
That matters to me, because not everyone is able to do this. And I believe it is something we all need. I didn't know years ago when I struggling through understanding and passing through the many stages of grief what it was all for. I had no idea why I was suffering so. Now I see, and it all makes sense. Grief is a very good thing, indeed, because nothing is permanent. Nothing lasts.
Things come and things go--people, jobs, money, material possessions, even feelings--and the best work I have done in my life is learning to be ok with that.
I've had to allow feelings that come up when I want things to be different and just sit with those feelings. Sometimes I give those feelings a minute, sometimes a week, something years. I find the most tension not in feeling the feelings but when I try to stuff them down or pretend they aren't there or when I ask for help from people who aren't ready, willing or able to provide it. That's when the grief goes from bad to worse.
I experience good grief when I draw on my Buddhist practice that reminds me of what I already know. I also experience good grief when I share my feelings with people who can hold the space for them, perhaps because they do that well for themselves. I also experience good grief when I don't rush the process--because grief has shown me it is way stronger than the Puritan work ethic. Yes, there are things to get done and life goes on, but grief runs by its own timeclock. And I have come to respect and admire that. It teaches me a lot about my inner world versus the external world I participate in. The agenda of the external world rarely lines up with the internal one.
Grief is good when I embrace it. It has taught me how to be vulnerable and more gentle with myself. It has taught me how to be a better listener for others.