I’ve been revisiting my grief books lately (and yes, I do have quite a lot of them). I find them comforting — and not only when I read them, but also just knowing that they occupy a significant row on my bookshelf and are my solace companions.
Today is the death anniversary of my grandfather and the reminder of his passing brings forward all the other passings I have experienced, from the death of my great-uncle (his twin) in October of 2001, to my grandmother’s passing in 2007, to my father’s passing in 2008. My already little family got much smaller in the span of seven years — and when I add in the death of my beloved bird Zelda, my childhood dog Alex, and my cat Mountie, there’s a lot of loss energy pooling and bubbling to the surface. One loss triggers all losses, my mother says.
There is a chapter in the book Unattended Sorrow by Stephen Levine called “Trusting Our Pain.” When I arrived at that chapter this evening, I gave the chapter title a double-take. “Wait. Trust our pain? Don’t we want to get rid of our pain?” we might ask. Levine writes:
To make peace with our pain, we must come to trust IT enough to be able to approach it without tightening our belly. First we need to soften to our pain and send mercy to it, then finally we can perhaps make peace with it. To reclaim our heart we need to forgive ourselves for being in so much pain. Perhaps the most difficult of the balancing acts we learn is to trust our pain, to let the healing in. Pain is surrounded by and encapsulated in fear. We tend to send hatred to our pains, whether physical or mental….The way we treat our pain is a demonstration in how we treat ourselves.
When I read Levine’s words I immediately began to think of the work I do as a bodywork practitioner. When there is either physical or emotional pain and we trust in it enough to soften into it, explore it, and give it the chance to unclench and let go, we don’t stay stuck in a pattern of pain. When I give massage or energy work sessions, I encourage my clients to surrender into the pain, to lean into it (sometimes physically), and to visualize what is happening inside the body. Is it dark? Cool? Hot? Olive green? Windy? Does the pain have a voice? Do you want to run from the pain or do you want to get inside its head?
In guiding my clients through trusting their pain, I’ve come to the realization that I need to do more of this myself. Sometimes the grief is a tiny stream in the background and sometimes it is a crashing wave that spits me out onto a rough, sandpapery shore. I ask myself how can I loosen into this pain, not tighten? How can I surrender to the feelings and not run from them out of overwhelm? How can I trust my pain-process enough to be vulnerable, open, and authentic? How can you?
I send you all a healing flashlight for illuminating your pain, whatever it may be, and a sunburst of courage so you can try trusting the pain by leaning in and softening into its uncertain edges.