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presence, an antidote to grieving

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(This is further to yesterday’s post. These vignettes are fictionalized accounts of actual events and posted with permission of the participants.)

We spoke again, by phone, late last night. How are you? Still numb and sad, he said. Where in your body do you feel this sadness. Would you sit back or lie down … and tell me? He then explored and reported on how his throat felt constricted, his breathing shallow, his head going dizzy from time to time, and facial muscles twitching.

“We all carry with us accumulated grief,” writes Ezra Bayda. “At some point, the path of practice brings us face to face with [the] layers of armoring that keep us constricted and protected in our narrow world.”

I could hear him weep and weep. What brought on this wave of grieving, I asked? Several events made him feel rejected and abandoned last week: a job interview that went poorly and a cherished volunteer position he didn’t get. How did you feel when they occurred? Normally I’d have taken them as part of the ups and downs, but this time they caught me off guard. I felt as if a hammer had hit me in the chest. I went into shock, then grief. I was surprised by the disproportionate reaction, but there it was.

Lie still for a little while longer, I suggested. Feel the floor underneath you, notice where your body connects, let gravity do the work. Now direct your attention to your body. Direct your breath to the place where you felt hit by a hammer. Breathe into that place.

Some more weeping, then deep exhales, and my friend described his body sinking into the floor. He’d placed a hand over his heart space. He began to gradually relax into his physical presence; “I’m coming home again.” Drawing on my own experience, I suggested that self-care is an antidote to abandonment. Yes, he replied, I tend to flee from my body when things get out of control. I fabricate stories about why things happen and blame myself for the actions of others.

“Presence is the essence of the healing process. As you are present to more and more of yourself and more and more of your life, you become increasingly aware of your wholeness,” writes Ellen Birx, a Zen teacher and nurse educator.

sources: Bayda, E. (2003). At home in muddy waters: a guide to finding peace within everyday chaos. Shambhala, p. 103. Birx, E. (2002). Healing Zen: Buddhist wisdom on compassion, caring and caregiving. Penguin, p. 9.

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