How I Discovered Little Griefs

Grief arrives with us into this world, or at least that is my working theory.

After all, anyone older than nine months has already experienced grief at least once, with that first big wrenching transition from inside-Mom to outside-Mom.

Maybe we liked it better inside and maybe we like it better outside, but either way, we didn't expect it. We weren't ready. We didn't have any say in the matter.  Ouch.

Fast forward 48 more years, and grief is a rather regular visitor in my life, but not always in ways I instantly recognize or respect.

Sure, there is what I've come to call "big grief."

I had that kind last November when my longtime love and I separated. I still have it, just to clarify. That kind of grief is big and bold. It likes to make an entrance.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's 5 Stages of Grief model sums up the high points: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance.

Personally, when in the throws of big grief, I tend to flop around a bit between the stages, waking up in denial one day, feeling angry the next, crying my eyes out a few days later after another round of bargaining with my ex, then finally finding the softness of acceptance for a moment or two....before it starts all over again,for more information.

But recently I discovered that big grief isn't the only kind of grief. There is also a type I've come to call "little griefs." 


A New Definition of Intimacy

I like to make up my own definitions to words.

Sometimes I do this because the definitions in the dictionary don't seem to fit. Sometimes I do this because I don't understand what the dictionary is talking about.

Sometimes I do this because when I read the definition, I feel it is giving me the end result - what the word's outcome will be, but there is no detail about the steps to get there.

And sometimes I do this because definitions in general often seem very theoretical, and I typically do a lot better with practical application.

So not, "how can I use this word in a sentence?," but rather, "How can I use this word in my daily life?"

The word "intimacy" is a great example in all these areas.

According to a vast variety of dictionary definitions for this word, intimacy means each of the following.

Closeness. Clearly a result of intimacy - what intimacy can provide. But how can I get there?
An intimate act. Really? Okay, I know what they're talking about. But don't use the actual word I'm trying to understand in the definition for that word....grrr.
Knowledge of a subject. See #1 here.
An intimate remark. See #2 here.

The one and only definition I found online that I feel any resonance comes from a fellow Psych Central blogger, who writes "intimacy means deeply knowing another person and being deeply known."

But still, there are steps missing - for me at least. And here, you have to understand that while I always got all As in observation, I routinely get all Fs in application, at least when it comes to intimate relationships.

As proof, I present this fact: 


Who Are You? Why Are You Here? What Gives Your Life Meaning?

According to one of my all-time favorite mentors, Don Miguel Ruiz, there are three simple questions that can start a revolution inside of us.

While "revolution" might not sound like a particularly good or safe thing - and probably not a convenient one either - Ruiz says that revolution is how we decide what kind of leader we will be to ourselves.

Ruiz's three questions sound just a bit different than mine, but I suspect the underlying spirit is the same. He asks, "Who are you? What is real? What is love?"

For so many years in my meditation tradition, I have been taught to ask myself, "Who am I? Why am I here? What gives my life meaning?"

So - not so very different, I think.

Recently a sweet heart-friend sent me a fabulous article about

Love & Feathers & Shells & Me

What Do You Really Want?

For many years - decades, really - I have been striving towards a state I call not-wanting.

As many of you know, my initial aspirations were wildly misguided as I focused on not wanting food, calories, weight...the exact sort of not-wanting that can transform a reasonably healthy tween into a totally unhealthy anorexic teen.

Later, as I got better at this sort of not-wanting and my efforts made a sharp turn away from unhealthy and towards deadly, I decided to focus more specifically on not-wanting to die. Happily, this eventually resulted in recovery and a much healthier and more functional me.

Along the way, I discovered meditation. This led me once again to not-wanting, this time as a lifestyle choice in preparation for what many yogis and meditation masters call a "good death." After all, I reasoned, if I am going to die anyway and only get one shot at it, I want to make sure it's a good one.

Why am I telling you all this? Basically, it is because I only just now realized that all the well-intentioned not-wanting in the world will never block out the pure and potent wanting that stretches down into the deepest fibers of my being.

I have also learned that this perpetual state of wanting is programmed right into our most fundamental hardwiring. For example, we all want food, water, shelter, to not get eaten. We all want connection. We all want to find our place in this world, whether it is our place in the pack or around the conference table. And we all want to fully be who we are - to fulfill our potential.

But only homo sapiens (us) have that large and pesky pre-frontal cortex to interfere with our deep knowledge and acceptance of what we want. Here, I mean what we REALLY want, not what our mind says we "should" want or what is reasonable to want or what we believe we are allowed to want or can want and actually get.

By the way, the difference between us and all other species in this area is HUGE. 


When Cells Cry: Grief at a Cellular Level

I don't like grief. I don't like grief in almost the same way I don't like death - because I don't understand it. And when I don't understand something, it makes me angry and then it scares me and then I just walk around feeling pissed off and jumpy.

This morning I wrote in my journal (a relatively rare occurrence these days that I reserve for really important stuff that absolutely needs to be written down),

How can I know I am grieving? 

In this question were so many other questions I didn't write down.....

What is grief supposed to feel like and how will I know when I am feeling it?

Will there be a time when I am "done" grieving?

What if I'm not really grieving even though I think I am and this means I will never be done?

Why am I not crying? Shouldn't I be crying if I'm grieving?

And so on and so forth.

I wrote this in my journal right after having a meditation that exposed me to something totally new I have never felt before now. The best way I can describe it is "cellular grief."

It felt like my cells - each one of them - were crying. The tears were so deep they weren't likely to ever reach my surface and come pouring out my eyes like usual. But they were tears all right. They were tiny little cell tears, as all 37.2 trillion of my cells poured out their hearts deep within the privacy of my skin.

This explained why my grief process this time around has felt so different from grieving days gone by.

Part of this might be because the particular trigger for this round of grief - my former partner - has been a popular headliner on my personal grief circuit in years past. It would be fair to say I am an "experienced griever" when it comes to us.

Every single other time we've parted ways, it has been the kind of grief I recognize and am used to. Crying, sobbing, losing your mind, wearing out your friends and your mentors and total strangers with stories of how it all went south (this time) and how painful and exhausting it all is.....this is the stuff grief memories are made of.

But this time - this time it is all so different. No crying, no incessant chatter, no desperate SOS texts to anyone who might care, not even much wine - there is really none of that going on right now. Inside me all is relatively quiet. Any actual grieving gets done late and night and early in the morning during my private hours to meditate, dream, read and sleep.

At first, I just thought I was basking in the glow of being right in choosing to separate. 

Animal Mentors

The Mini Dinosaur in My Living Room

I just finished reading the most fabulous book. The guy who wrote it is way younger than me and vastly more distinguished.

And this is a very good thing, given what his book is about and how controversial the topic has been over the past decades in scientific circles.

But not anymore.

His name is Dr. Stephen Brusatte and his book is about - wait for it - how birds are modern dinosaurs!

The book is called "The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs," but it could just as easily be called "mini dinosaurs - they're everywhere!"

To prove it, I have one in my living room right now, even while I'm typing these words. His name is Pearl, and he is a 19-year-old cockatiel (parrot).

Pearl has a beak, and claws, and - most importantly to earn true modern mini-dinosaur status - feathers. According to Dr. Brusatte, some of the earliest dinos on our planet also had feathers.

Of course, their feathers initially looked more like hairs - think "ostrich" rather than "peacock" and you'll be on the right track.

But what is most interesting about all this is not even that extinct dinosaurs had feathers or that over time, those early skinny hair-like feathers evolved to the point where they became the aerodynamic masterpieces that inspired the Wright Brothers to make metal ones, attach it to a metal body, add a tail and call it an "airplane."

What is most interesting is that these early feathers apparently didn't evolve for the purposes of flight. 


What We Do Matters (How We Do It Matters Even More)

I am newly turned 48 years old this year. I have lived on this round blue planet for nearly half a century.

This (to my mind at least) is a not insignificant amount of time. I have had lots of years to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, try again, make more mistakes, learn from those mistakes, try again.

I have watched myself go from a literal human-doing, someone who ruled herself with the iron fist of lengthy to-do lists - and when I say "lengthy" I mean 20, 40, 50 items on a daily to-do list - to more of a human-being, who can let her gut make the daily to-do list and even change it up in the moment if that feels right.

But I haven't yet been able to let the to-do lists go. I haven't yet been able to relinquish the doing in favor of simply being.

Perhaps part of the reason for this is because I am more than a little afraid I am going to like "being" so much I stop "doing" entirely! Someone has to earn the rent money around here, and it certainly isn't going to be the rest of my feathered and shelled flock doing it!

And part of the reason, I suspect, is because I still don't know how. 


Have You Picked Your Mentors Personally?

Falling in love with words at a young age has taken me to some very interesting places.

One of the most interesting - and least comfortable - of these places were the years I spent as a traveling motivational speaker.

In theory, I was attempting to motivate others - particularly college students who struggled with eating or other issues the way I had done when I was in college myself.

But in reality, looking back now, I have to admit I was mostly hoping to motivate myself.

Every time I would speak to a group of students and instructors, I would learn something new about my own journey. Most importantly, I would discover again and again how very important, vital, essential, my mentors have been in keeping me alive and helping me heal, one small aha moment at a time.

I'm pretty sure the only reason any institution ever hired me to speak was because they wanted to hear the eating disorder basics from the horse's mouth, so to speak - warning signs, triggers, symptoms, how to help a loved one, that sort of thing.

And these were all very important topics that I wanted to cover.

But they weren't nearly so important as the one topic I absolutely planned to cover during my talks. That topic was mentoring.

I say this because, in over two decades' worth of fighting to heal from anorexia and bulimia, I learned one single thing that literally saved my life, and I wanted each person in the audience to learn about it too.

What I learned is that I have a choice who I listen to in this life. I have a choice who I look to for guidance, inspiration, support, help. I have a choice who I surround myself with.

Even more importantly, I learned that if I don't make this choice for myself, the world will make it for me.

This world we live in is literally chock-full of mentors. We have so many mentors it would be impossible to count them up.

This world's mentors are busy each and every day creating new content to slow down our internet connections and boggle our brains. These mentors clog up our freeways with billboards and bulk up our magazines with ads.

They interrupt our television programs to tell us about new products and services and programs we can buy to make ourselves better, stronger, bigger or smaller, depending on who is talking and who is listening and what the day's self-betterment goals may be.

But what these mentors - the world's mentors - will never ever say, what we will never EVER hear from them, is this: 

Yoga Mentoring

What If Your Body Is Already Good?

Oh so many moons ago, I discovered yoga. I was also discovering recovery around the same time, and so it didn't take any time at all to notice how some of my body image issues readily receded the moment I stepped onto my mat.

Although this phenomenon was exceedingly odd, since we spent each entire class positioned in front of....wait for it....a full length MIRROR.

Anyone who has ever experienced even a tremor, a glimmer, of body shame or body hate knows the mirror is generally not your go-to friend during these times. It can be better, smarter, healthier, to give that wide reflective surface an equally wide berth until those feelings have passed.

And yet there I would be, with my wide-feeling self positioned just-so on my skinny mat right smack dab in front of a giant floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall mirror, feeling GRAND.

Even odder - during these sessions I would be wearing my most form-fitting attire (especially during the "hot" yoga courses, which were less like "hot" and more like "fiery pit of hell" temperature-wise).

So there I would be, nearly naked, sweating, dripping even, standing in front of that ginormous mirror, feeling....PROUD. STRONG. EMPOWERED. At home inside my own skin.

Needless to say, these feelings kept me coming back for quite some time. But then life intervened. 

Yoga Mentoring

What To Do With All That Extra Space

I have always needed some sort of path to follow - some kind of structure to inform my choices, give me hope....or at the very least to keep me in line.

When I was 19, my first mentor taught me how to meditate, and that has been a constant source of structure in my life for most of the years since.

Off and on over the years, I have also enjoyed following a regular movement yoga practice - using the formal poses and breathing exercises to get stronger inside and out.

Oddly, although so much of my early life was literally obsessed with changing my body's shape and size, I never interpreted movement yoga practice as a form of "exercise" per se. I mean, it was that, and I did know that, especially as I wobbled and fell again and again out of pure physical weakness.

But it has always felt deeper than exercise, broader than slimming or toning the butt or thighs or belly or whatever the target of my body-based irritation happened to be from one day to the next.

My current yoga practice with #YogawithAdriene is nearing its first birthday. I can't imagine life without Adriene and her loving, supportive, inside-out approach to yoga that focuses on finding what feels good over achieving the perfect pose.

Day by day, with the help of Adriene's yoga instructions, my thyroid remembers it has a job to do and agrees to do it, my muscles come back out of their respective corners and agree to work together to keep the rest of my upright, and my head and heart realign around our shared goal to strengthen, heal and re-energize.

Of course, with each step forward, I can then see a bit further along towards the horizon and realize how far I have yet to go!