When my father died in a shocking and brutal car crash (we call them accidents when they are mostly carelessness, inattention and lack of presence). It was death in the dark of a December night at the hands of a drunken driver. I was 17.
I cannot remember grieving properly. I got stuck in the early phases of grieving and never reached completion until decades later.
For me this was layered on top of complex childhood trauma that was a result of the era I was born, and me being a pretty sensitive young boy in a world of what is now called toxic masculinity. The world of ‘You are not man enough if you don’t X, Y or Z’.
In those days corporal punishment was the norm. I remember being hit with sticks, board rubbers, pieces of flying chalk, slippers and canes by school teachers from the age of five.
I remember being slapped by my mother and beaten with a leather belt by my father. Then there was the street gang culture of violence, abuse and fear.
To add to this toxic cocktail of trauma, there was the sexual abuse from a culture created by two men, two scout leaders, one a sadist and the other a paedophile.
You get the picture.
I carried a lot of unresolved and unintegrated shadows into my adult life. No wonder finding my place, my path and staying well in relationships was complex.
The blessings for me that began the thaw, the de-armouring and the healing were with some beautiful people in my life, who showed me some of what might be possible – inspiring teachers who appointed beauty and love and a deep yearning in my heart for something more – something better.
Then there was my discovery of deep yoga – a true revelation, as well as conscious breathwork, meditation, and working with some wonderful teachers and therapists.
This shone a light on a bright and hopeful path, and led me out of the frozen maze, in which I was stuck. I began to defrost, to land in my heart, to find my place in life and to live from the power of a new found sense of purpose and meaning.
Of course, I cannot claim the defrosting is complete, how could I know?
What I do know, is my purpose is simply to live powerfully and as compassionately as possible, to live well and fully in this moment, and to share this with others, so that they too can find their illumined path – whatever that may be.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and other psychologists and practitioners have come up with stages of grief and resolution that are really useful to understand, and would have been helpful if my culture had an appreciation of this process.
Of course my culture is numbed with centuries of psychopathic feudalism (Kings and Queens had to be psychopaths to survive), endless wars, one after another traumatising generation after generation, all on top of the brutalising power of poverty, debt and destitution that the working class people have faced – and many still do face.
Cleaning up the shadows of our personal psychology so we no longer project, blame or shame others is a key piece of our work as practitioners of any kind of evolution or development. The easiest route is delusion, pretending the work is already done, rather than actually doing the painful and excruciating work of ruthless honesty that is needed to reclaim the shadows of our psyche.
Growing up is the work of landing in a strong enough sense of selfing, so that we can be fully functional in the world, and live from a place of purpose and power. And importantly, where this purpose and power is not just about making things better for our self and our family, but connected to a bigger vision that honours our place in the world. The selfing of selfish self-obsession is not enough, that is the dance of fearful shadow.
Waking up is the embodied recognition that we are life doing its thing, that the selfing that we have believed was us, is in fact a function of this life doing its thing, and that we are all continuous ripples, seamlessly connected to the ocean of life – as life.
Waking up is living from this place and actively being involved in making this planet a better place for all beings everywhere. Enabling the development and expansion of all human beings through the process of cleaning up, growing up and waking up. Each according to their unique path.
If in this complex weave of life we do not feel shocked, saddened, tearful, depressed or angry at the squalid brutality we can so evidently see around us, numbed by the leadership of this planet by what can technically be called narcissistic sociopaths (often in the roles of politicians and corporate leaders), distressed and upset by the climate emergency and the failure of human governance to effectively meet this – then maybe we are shut down, numbed with our own trauma, or defended into hopelessness and despair.
Then there is the rampant manipulation of populations and even our children by the social media giants. If you have not yet watched The Social Dilemma (on Netflix), then for the sake of our world and our children (whether you personally have any or not) – watch it.
Yet, emergence often happens through crisis, the shock and the pain of it can give us the nudge of necessity to wake up and pay attention. Eventually as humans perhaps we can wake up through the path of intelligence, listening and beauty, instead of the path of pain.
From this place of emergence we have to reappraise ourselves and reposition ourselves in relationship, to where we were before, who we were before and whomever or whatever we were, or were in relationship with. Only from this reappraisal and new position can we integrate the experience and finally move on.
This is also my personal experience, what is yours like?
Grieving, and there is so much to grieve, personally from pain and lost love, lost opportunity and the simple changes of life as we age.
Grieving at a societal level about the climate emergency, about the inability and ineptitude of our societal structures to meaningfully address the big issues of our lives and of the future.
Grief at the simple fact that the planet, people and all the populations of the planet, flora and fauna are subsumed under the mighty arc of profit at all costs.
What kind of stages are we likely to move through?
What kind of stages might we get stuck in?
What might happen when we do?
- Shock – this is the state of disbelief and numbness, a kind of shut down and dissociation from what has happened and therefore from life. People can live in a numb state for years, another possible form of stuckness is withdrawal from life as a kind of hermit and using alcohol and drugs to get by. We have to begin to move the frozen state of shock to begin to live again. Yoga and breathwork can really help to stop this frozen state from taking over. Conscious connected breathing with a guide might really help.
- Denial and isolation, pain and guilt can also happen after this. The “it’s not real” phase, and the “it’s my fault, I should have done X, Y or Z, then it would have been alright” element of this phase can take over our minds and our lives.
- Anger – shouting and raging at the unfairness of life that such inequity and ugliness can happen. That it has happened to me, that despite everything it is true. This is the beginning of acceptance. Anger and tears go well together and these energies are the antifreeze we need to start living again. Movement, dance, running really helps this movement of energy. Conscious connected breathing with a guide might really help.
- Bargaining – the psychological experience of making inner equations, if I do this then maybe it will be alright. No it won’t be alright. Any inner meaning we make to justify or excuse the unfairness is a lie. It’s ugly and unfair, plain and simple. When we finally give up bargaining, then more tears can flow. Conscious connected breathing with a guide can help, along with other breath practices such as the Sigh of Release, Shaking and Do In. Again movement is needed here, so dance and yoga can help shift through this state. Crying is needed in all these states as a powerful release.
- Depression – the drop into the position of accepting how it is. A tough place to climb out of, yet in moments we can find the joy and lightness, and the practices we have engaged in help us. Acceptance is the outcome of this phase.
- Integration and stepping forward – things being as they are, how do I (or we) begin to live life again. What does life look like now? What is possible? Conscious connected breathing and the kriyas and embodied breath based practices help us to take clear healthy steps and find our way forward.
- Reconstruction and working through – rebuilding who we are, who we are in relationship and how we choose to be in the world, giving things are as they are. What has changed in who we are? What is our purpose and direction now? Oftentimes, grief and loss is a powerful calling to redirect life, to move in a new way and find a new flow of being in the world. Embodied awareness, deeper meditation and conscious breathwork all play a powerful role in helping us land well in reconstruction.
These phases are simply guides to the flow of energy and pain and loss that grief is. They don’t all happen like this for everyone, not always. Sometimes, some phases are long and others short. Sometimes, like for me, I was stuck in a phase for many years and then had to come back and do the work of release through breathwork and movement. These practices insisted I clean up, grow up and wake up.
How do you deal with grief and loss?
Given the times in which we live – times of substantial imbalance and crisis, then integrating the practices of embodied awareness, good movement, expression, meditative depth and the many practices of conscious breathwork that enable a powerful intimacy with life-energy, are essential tools to enable us to live well and step forward in our world.
Another key element of grief and loss is that it is also a collective event, we help each other grieve. We can hold space for each other to deeply feel what is happening and move and release this energy so we can be engaged.
I was at an African funeral and there I learnt how to collectively grieve. There was space for people to fully feel and fully release, held by those not in this process. We need to learn how to hold space for each other, how to listen to each other’s stories and how to let them go. This is part of being human.
Let’s live, love and breathe together.
Please get in touch if you need help and support with grief, loss, or anything else that lands you in the frozen maze…
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