Here are some resources that may help you navigate and hold grief and joy at the same time. This is an adapted form of a talk I recently gave.
1. Create your own Matilda. Matilda is the name of ONE of the characters that sits inside of me and messes with my emotions. She’s my inner critic. The idea is this – you mostly likely have had anxiety or anger—then your inner critic may sidle up at your most vulnerable moments and says, “Who do you think you are?” I named my inner critic so that I can talk to her. I even gave her a look – light blue house dress with white polka dots and she wears black men’s Oxford shoes with white ankle socks and has those cat eye glasses. You see, when I talk to her and say, “I see you, Matilda. What do you want me to know?” Lots of times the answer is, “Watch out! Stay small! Your feelings might get hurt!” Even though what I hear is “You suck! You’re a failure!” I learned how to talk to my resistance, actually have a cup of tea with Matilda, and calm her and myself down to see what is actually happening underneath those feelings. For more on Matilda, view this post. While I have been doing this practice for years, Mary O’Malley’s book, What’s in the Way, is the Way has been a game changer for me in terms of shifting my resistance into flow.
2. Feel it. Then flip it. Hold both in the bowl. Gratitude is the single biggest tool which has helped me to show up even on days when I don’t want to. Jimmie Shelton, a beautiful soul and volunteer taught me that on a new level. I used to see him once a week and ask, “How you doin’ Jimmie?” And he’d say, “I’m above dirt, Rebecca. So I’m good.” I have a song when I wake that runs through my head and it goes like this, “Thank you Lord for waking me up and giving me this new day! Giving me this new day! Giving me this new day!” This song has taken training because there have been times when all I do is wake up in a panic about the length of my to-do list. I also used to run through my productivity score of the previous day, “Did I work out? What did I eat? Man! I didn’t pay that bill.”
This does not mean that I let gratitude squash my anxiety or stress. I made that mistake when I NEVER let myself feel the trauma of all of the medical interventions during my son’s birth, nor the disappointment of not having a water birth with my doula and midwife. Instead, I just kept giving thanks for us being alive. And guess what? I got PTSD and post-partum depression. I don’t blame myself for that—there were multiple factors, but I learned that we have to feel the hard stuff.
So notice when that hard stuff comes up in your body. What does it feel like? A pinch in your shoulder blade? Lower back pain? A migraine? These symptoms are physical and can also often be a signal from trauma, grief or other feelings. Using the Matilda approach as well as just breathing like we did at the beginning of the session, can help you navigate when you feel your body contract and then help you to expand. Notice it, welcome it and give it a new job. I learned that from SARK. She would give her inner perfectionist a job at the egg checking factory. Before I published my novel, my fear would come up so that I almost couldn’t breathe at times. Then I talked to my fear, and said, “Dude, this is one of the reasons I’m on the earth at this time. I have to share this story. It brings JOY to the world. Thanks for trying to protect me. I hear there’s an opening for you to screen test scary movies. Now go.”
Once you hone that muscle, you can move through the feelings more efficiently and then you can FLIP THEM. One of my traumas meant that I became hypervigilant. What that means is that I was always scenario planning for the safest environment. Guess what? That scenario planning skill has made me a great project manager. And the pain I have experienced has been my golden ticket to extreme empathy. And that has helped me build some of the most amazing relationships in all aspects of my life. (I heard Donna Helete use the term “golden ticket” and it has stuck with me. You will learn more about her below.)
And here’s the most powerful lesson that I have learned in the last two years: I can hold grief, sadness, anger, outrage, hurt and disappointment in the same bowl with happiness, joy, elation, ecstasy and gratitude. They don’t have to conflict. I am allowed to be happy when I am also deeply grieving for example, the recent loss of my cousin. I wrote a post about that here.
And for the men in the audience, give yourself permission to feel it all – despite cultural norms and collective tribal shame, you have a GREAT BIG GIANT permission slip to feel all of the feelings. That courage to be vulnerable, thank you Brene Brown, is what makes us live a WHOLEHEARTED LIFE. This feeling creates expansion, over contraction. Because holding things in also impacts your physical and mental health. If you’re not familiar with her, check out her videos here or watch her new Netflix special. My husband and I have also started reading a powerful book by Bell Hooks called The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love.
3. Ride the current of grief. Let it flow through you and the rest will flow–and by the rest, I mean, love, health and money. Grief is sacred energy and a capacity–building skill. I learned that from my regenerative grief coach, Donna Helete. I meet with her via Zoom and she has helped to transform my relationship to grief so that it has become the most profound pathway to joy. I can go in one session from exclaiming my utter joy about a win at work, a tax refund, a new chapter in my novel to total despair, exhaustion and big bold tears and snot flying over friends who are dying and living on purpose, over another black church burned, over Puerto Rico still not having basic services and the poisoned water in Flint.
Historically, I let myself feel sadness and then reined it in with gratitude. You’re blessed, Rebecca. But Donna said, try to hold it for a few more seconds each time. Let the tears flow for even one more second. And let me tell you, as a Type A overachiever, when you tell me that I can build this skill which involves the sacred energy of grief, you can bet I’m going to “get better” at it. I have a physical tool that helps you do this, which you can view in the video in this post. So much of my past traumas were kicked up by the evacuations. That is something to track when experiencing new trauma and/or grief, you may find old stuff kicked up—when you thought you were done with it. I found this podcast interview with Donna helpful in the transformation process. You can listen on iTunes or Spotify.
4. Forgive everyone for everything, starting with yourself. I learned this this powerful approach from Iyanla Vanzant in her course on forgiveness and deep compassion from the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. If you can start with yourself and make it a habit to forgive yourself for the little and big things, then the rest of forgiveness becomes easier. Compassion begins with your own heart. And when you can visualize those that have caused you suffering as small children and imagine what they must have endured to become who they are, you can open a spot for forgiveness. This does not mean that those people are allowed back in your life or into your heart in any way. You can still take out your golden scissors and CUT the cord between you and those individuals. There are lots of cord-cutting meditations out there. Many of us have heard the adage that resentment is like taking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die. I don’t want to carry grudges around with me. They are so heavy. And they make me want to numb out with Netflix, cheese and wine. Sound familiar?
5. Bring nature with you for some everyday magic. Do you know what a Talisman is? It could be the Star of David, the Hand of Fatima, the cross around your neck or the pebble in your pocket. When we started our time together, we united our hearts and minds and got grounded with roots like the trees. If you have ever been in a wide open space of nature, it is magnificent to realize how we are tiny specks in the Universe. Even when I lived in the very concrete part of Chicago, I intentionally noticed a weed or wildflower that despite all odds had sprouted in the concrete. And there were days that the divine noticing reminded me to keep going, that I too could break through the concrete and sprout anew. For that reason, I usually travel with small rocks, crystals and jewelry from loved ones. Find your talismans–even that small pebble for your pocket. For you are loved and supported. You have everything you need inside of you.