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  • Writer's pictureEva

On grief and the importance of doing nothing

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

The last entry of my blog is months old. I have been living and applying something that I often encourage clients to do: follow your own rhythm and appreciate that there are cycles of going inward and outward, and that when something big happens you need time to adjust, and to trust the shift even if it is uncomfortable.

In my case, it was grief that made me lose the momentum. My mother died at the end of July 2019. Having supported many people through grief, the professional and the student in me were fascinated and engaged, even as the air went out of me and I crumbled into grief. I mean this quite literally- I recall precisely the moment when I got the news- over the phone, en route driving from the UK to Germany, trying to reach my mother in time. I felt my body cave in, the muscles go soft. I collapsed inwards.

The rest of the journey was surreal in the sense that I felt a desperate urgency to arrive at the destination, but also a deep internal slowing down.

Working with the body and valuing internal sensations as important resources is integral to how I work. And in my case, my “work” consisted of letting things be for a while. Until my mother’s death I had enthusiastically been doing weight training several times a week. After her death, this activity became impossible to me- I felt a strong, solid ‘no’ in every cell of my body. The thought of doing vigorous movement to cheerful, upbeat music was completely incongruent to the state I was in.

I respected and honoured that, and let my body go soft. I am grateful that I was able not to judge this- the moments of doubt and put down of my “lazy” self were short lived. I was able to hold my stillness with warm reverence, trusting that it was needed.

Grief comes in many ways and each of us experiences it differently. Sometimes we get surprised, or overlook our emotions because they don’t show up in the ways we assume they would. We don’t think we are grieving when in fact we are doing so intensely- just not in the way we thought. I was surprised by some of the ways in which grief showed up for me. I was tearful, I felt myself change, I noticed how the ending of my mother’s life meant letting go of some ways of being that no longer felt relevant. And I stepped into a care taking role of my father and the wider family. All of this I had expected. What I hadn’t quite expected was that so much of my grief was expressed nonverbally. In fact it was actively not expressed but treasured and stored internally. Lots was held in my body, and I seemed to not want to let go of it. In holding on to the grief in my soft tissues, I was holding on to my mother. I am writing this without judgment- this was my need to keep her close. Over months, I began to uncover whole sequences of feeling that were held in certain body parts. Mostly at first my impulse was to move as little as possible. The only exception was running. It is something I enjoy doing, and I felt it would help carry me through the ups and downs of grief. But shortly after my mother’s death I injured my toe so badly that I could not run for many weeks. The world seemed to support and invite my immobility.

Instead I was drawn to cake, to tea, to hugs, to books, to companionship and also to jigsaw puzzles. All of these activities provided consolation and healing in one way or another.

One day, months later, I tried a yoga practice I had been doing frequently until I dropped out of my movement practices when my mother died.

As I folded my body forward in a stretch, waves of sadness flowed through me and I sobbed. This would happen every time I did this posture for a week or two. Then it stopped. A few weeks later I was able to go for a run for the first time. I hated it. It was extremely uncomfortable- not even physically, but emotionally. Another wave of emotions went through me as I ran. Every subsequent time that I ran in the next 2 weeks, this lessened. The same thing happened with weights- it was only after the New Year that I felt ready to do this again. As I transitioned to 2020, I was ready to stop holding on to my grief and transform it in a way I hadn’t felt able to before. And just like with running, the first time doing weights was awful. I had rage and sadness come up very strongly. And this too subsided after a couple more times.

This experience may be quite uniquely mine, or may be shared by some of you. I notice that now, in January, in a new decade, and 6 months into the grief, something different is happening. What was still and static is now ready to be felt and released. And I didn’t push it to get there- I flowed with the stillness until it started to move.

I don’t know where I am going next, but I am enjoying following the inward and outward tendencies as they show up, trusting a wisdom beyond my cognitive self.

I am grateful for the months of inward being that I had. I wasn’t ready to express and feel, and that was ok.

This is something I want to encourage for you also. Maybe sometimes you can’t or don’t want to do something- and this is exactly right. Mainstream life implies this sense of constant productivity with only short rest. Value is so strongly placed on movement and growth and output and performance. And these are all wonderful- but they are only half the story and not the whole world. There is also a big need for slowing down, for pausing, for waiting, for not knowing. Germination. Process. Transition. We lack rituals and permission for this as a culture more widely in the Western part of the world.

What is it you are sitting on, that your gut is telling you is cooking and not quite ready to be served yet? Or maybe you have a call to drop what you are doing, and be still. To sit and feel. Or to do nothing. Maybe doing nothing is the scariest thing in the world. I want to invite you to try it. What happens if you stop fighting, and meet what you avoid like a curious traveller discovering a new land? What happens if you don’t try to 'get' it, if you suspend judgment and just meet it? Here is to new discoveries in 2020!

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