About three to four months ago, I found myself entering into a process of grieving. It was not a conscious choice. It naturally occurred.
This grief did not originate in something that happened right then. It was like a quiet underground stream deep in the earth of my body, mind and emotional center, that had been flowing along for some time. And then, it found its way to the surface of that earthen container of me. It began in trickles, but gradually began to widen and become more powerful.
In the last three weeks, that grief became a fast-flowing river upon which I was navigating my day to day life. At times, as if precariously jumping from slippery rock to slippery rock, mindful of the fast-moving flow, but landing well, and standing steady above it. Other times, I suddenly found myself sliding uncontrollably into that river of grief, and being swept away for a while—until I could find a secure hold with which to pull myself back on to another solid, but still slippery, rock.
And so the flow has gone each day for me.
During this last quarter of the year, I have been navigating my grief using the tools I have at hand—Qi Gong, acupressure and meditation, along with some ancillary practices.
About a week ago, I was speaking to a friend about this grief navigation. They asked, “What is the difference between grief and depression?”
Depression, for me, is a feeling of my body, mind and emotional center being sucked down and in, a feeling of a tightly spiraling contractive energy. But not as if pressure from the outside is squeezing in. Instead, it is a feeling as if a powerful magnetism from inside of me is drawing in with a steady pull that causes the outer arrangement of myself to simply collapse inward. As well, at times, it can feel as if the ground beneath me has suddenly opened into a yawning chasm into which I plummet. When my depression is full on, it can seem like an irresistible gravity rendering me immovable within a pitch black space of inertia, in which the tape player of my mind keeps playing the same loop of negative self-talk, with slight variations on the same theme.
Grief, however, feels like an expansive energy that is trapped. It feels as if it originates deep in the center of my being and, from there, opens in every direction, simultaneously. This opening force pushes against the inner “walls” of my body-mind consciousness. I feel like there is a huge presence that wants out, but cannot find the exit. This presence is so strong at times that I can feel my organs being pressed on in a way that is limiting or corrupting their normal flow of function. Which lays the ground for dis-ease of various types to take hold.
The reason that my river of grief grew more powerful in the last three weeks, and became more precarious, was because I was directly exposed to a physiological illness. For five days prior to coming into contact with the illness, I had not been attending to my daily preventative maintenance the way I usually do. And, the grieving process, already taking place, had created in me an imbalanced state. Being mentally and emotionally tossed about on the river of grief had also weakened my usual robust health, because mental, emotional and physical are not separate. They are an intimate and intricate weave. Each of these three parts directly feeds its state into the other two. With the increased mental and emotional grieving pouring into my physical body, and because my physicality and physiology were lacking their usual daily upkeep, I succumbed to the illness.
It just so happened that the illness I was exposed to weakened my lungs. In Chinese Medicine, grief is the emotion that can sideline the respiratory system in various ways. So, a double whammy on my capacity to breathe. Not a whole lot of fun.
You might think, ‘Not ANY fun.’
But, the “fun” part of all of this is that, as I confront and work with the grief, via some of the tools I mentioned above, I feel physically better. And, as I carefully stimulate my physicality and physiology—via most of those same tools—the respiratory issues lessen. This process of healing is teaching me tons about not only myself, but the tools that I am using to heal myself.
On Christmas Day, when I awoke, I was hacking as much as the day prior. Then I went for a 4-hour walk around the eastern edge of Kyoto. I experienced no cough until the very tail end, when it occurred only 2-3 times, very brief and light.
That evening, I felt not only physically refreshed, but mentally and emotionally cleansed as well. It was another confirmation about how deeply connected the layers of awareness of body, mind and emotions are.
Grief is not only a challenge unto itself, but it is an easy access point for depression to sneak in. As grief strengthens, the outer cloying expansion can begin to solidify into what feels like a huge stone weighing the chest down, from the inside. The feeling of that sinking stone is as if there is an inward gravitational pull weighing me down. The image that comes to mind is the cement shoes method of disposing of a body. Not pretty, I suppose, but I think, in a way, it is an appropriate image.
Depression is the casting of our mind into the murky depths of the darkest parts of our emotional ocean. We sink into those dark parts, weighted down by feelings of powerlessness, and unable to swim upward toward the surface, where the darkness lessens more and more until we emerge into the light.
This surface light of our emotional ocean represents the light of understanding that we are not powerless. We are not without value. We are not without merit. We have worth. It is in the darkest depths of depression where that worth disappears, to be replaced by the negative chatter of a mind that has lost its capacity to clearly assess the truth. And, in very deep depressive states, the mind will thoroughly convince us that the truth IS our present endarkened state.
We need to approach our grief and depression from a preventative maintenance view. This way, we do not become overwhelmed by those states.
A few suggestions below.
- To Grieve, or Not to Grieve – First and foremost, understand that grieving is a necessary process. You are not trying to get rid of the grief, but move through the grief. Everyone’s process will require a different amount of time. You have to honor your own process.
- Talk About It – It is always necessary to verbally speak about our grief to a trusted individual who will listen with attentiveness, and provide us the space to speak with unrestrained candidness about how we feel. They do not need to be able to analyze your grief and provide you with insight into your process, unless of course they are a grief counselor you are meeting with for specifically that purpose. It can also be very helpful to speak about your depression with a trusted person. And, if your depression seems to be increasing, it is vital for you to speak about it, and it may very well be necessary to seek professional counseling as well.
- Fresh Air & Movement – A walk outside in nature can do wonders for our grieving or depressed mind. Especially if we allow ourselves to amble with no particular destination, immersed in the moment to moment experience of our movement and the natural surroundings. Whether a casual hike in a forest, a stroll through a park or along a beach, or even a walk around your town in a more quiet, less urban area. All can be helpful.
- Daily Exercise – Speaking of movement, exercise is a scientifically proven method to reduce depression. Daily exercise will also help mitigate a build-up of stress and anxiety from your grieving process. If you are at a loss as to where to begin, start right here with a short but very beneficial Qi Gong sequence, packaged in a step by step way for you to take up with ease.
- Breathe – Silly, right? Of course, I breathe! A simple breath practice done daily can help a lot. Not only will it help you actively clear out carbon dioxide and refresh your oxygen, it will make you in general more aware of your breath. Think about a time when you have been greatly upset, so much so that you find it difficult to breathe. Not because you cannot inhale, but the exhale seems to become short or non-existent. Daily breath practice will also cultivate your parasympathetic nervous system response. This response supports deep relaxation and good digestion. You can find a simple breath practice here, in a blog I wrote about alleviating anxiety from feeling isolated or cooped up, because of the coronavirus restrictions that may be in place where you are.
- Say No to Sugar – Refined sugar, when over consumed, has been scientifically proven to cause depression to increase. As well, if that overconsumption becomes habitual, it could very well lead to serious mental health disorders. The irony of course is that when we are depressed, often the first thing we reach for is a comfort food to soothe us. This creates a false sense of being okay, while adding to our depressive state instead of lessening it. Instead, find snacks that you enjoy that have only the minimalist of refined sugars or, better yet, no sugar.
- Music Soothes – One thing I have recently been exploring are Solfeggio Frequencies. These are different hertz of sound that can induce a variety of beneficial effects in the body, mind and emotions. You can find some excellent long play videos of these frequencies on YouTube. Some of my favorites are from Nature Healing Society and Meditative Mind. Even if you do not believe these frequencies have the effects listed for them, the music itself, I find, is very relaxing and soothing and helps me openly focus on what I am doing. And they do so without being sleep-inducing, unless you are listening to a frequency specifically to help sleep.
This is a brief list of suggestions. You have to investigate them to determine what helps you most.
The first thing, though, that we have to be able to do is recognize we are experiencing an upsurge of grief, or a downward spiral of depression. Recognition of these states is a personal endeavor. While people close to you may be able to discern something is not right with you, it is ultimately you that needs to recognize and admit what is happening. Without this, it is rather challenging to address the issue at all.
My personal river of grief is my own. It is formed by at least three distinct sources, all very much in the forefront of my concern these days. But it does not control me, unless I let my guard down. If I do not address my wellbeing each day in the way I know I need to, then I begin to erode that earthen barrier that allows me to assess and respond to my grief with skill. Otherwise, that barrier breaks down. And this not only opens me to grief-related dis-ease of all sorts, but provides easy access for depression to enter as well.
2020 has been a rather challenging year for EVERYONE. Period.
There have been huge losses on both the personal and global scale. You too, like me, may be going through your own personal grieving process right now. You may also be experiencing the downward spiral of depression.
Though the shape of your grief and depression may be different than mine, you are not alone.
You are worthy.
You have immense value. I would hazard there are people you are not even aware of who value your presence.
And there is hope. But YOU have to do the work to move toward the surface of your emotional ocean.
If you need a hand in doing this, contact me. I have been there, and still visit from time to time.
What I have come to understand is that it is not about completely eradicating grief and depression. It is about understanding why and how it flows within us. And how we can alleviate its presence so that it does feel that we are not held by it, but that it is held by us.
I wish You the best of health in body, mind and emotions!
Please feel free to leave any questions or comments. I will respond to them.