Emotion as Messenger Part V … Negotiating the Waters of Grief

These thoughts on grief are based on a recent personal experience, and reflect my own meditations as well as lessons from many valued teachers.

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“Grief is the last act of love we have to give those we have loved.
Where there is deep grief there was great love.”
Anonymous

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It’s said that the act of grieving is like being hit by an enormous wave, or drowning in a deep ocean. Considering our emotions are mutable, flowing and changing from one moment to the next, this comparison seems entirely appropriate. Like emotions, water ebbs and flows according to the energy to which it is subjected. Since the human body is composed of up to 90% water this analogy is even more intriguing. For in effect each one of us is our own body of water ~ a continuously moving physiological sea inhabited by emotional creatures subject to the disturbances of outside events and environment.

Wave

Since the passing of my heart horse, Bear, this past November I’ve been negotiating the waters of grief. Introspection has led me to take the ocean metaphor one step further, something I’ll explore in this article.

Much as an earthquake strikes without warning, loss cannot be predicted. It rattles our world and in the process generates a swell of grief that rolls through our waters destabilizing and disorienting us in its wake. We lose our bearings. Our thoughts become muddled. We feel overwhelmed; vulnerable; fragile. Our deepest fears and anxieties re-awaken. How we ride this unnerving wave determines whether we’ll return to calmer waters or forever flounder in the dark depths inhabited by our unmet and unconsciously hidden emotional sea monsters.

In recent years science has demonstrated that water records and saves information; that it has memory. Dr. Masaru Emoto, respected scientist, researcher and best-selling author, discovered that water is deeply connected to our individual and collective consciousness. His experiments proved that energy and intention, individually and collectively, can alter the molecular structure of water for good or ill. e.g. With a powerful microscope and camera he showed that water molecules intentioned with love or gratitude altered to resemble beautiful, symmetrical crystal shapes ~ much like a snowflake. Conversely, water molecules intentioned with hate disintegrated into an ugly mass. Further proof that whatever we project, intentionally or absently, purifies or poisons our inner and outer environments.

So, how does this apply to grieving? Loss, like an earthquake, is a powerful change agent and grief is the potent swell of energy it generates that changes us. This overwhelming force manifests anger, fear, betrayal, denial, etc. which, if indulged unhealthily or not appropriately resolved, can lead to deep depression and dis-ease. Alternatively, wading grief’s troubled waters in the moment and with love, promotes healing and closure. In other words, over time our waters become still again.

Allow me to illustrate with my own recent experience of loss.

Dream Horse
Shakespeare (Bear) was my first horse; my dream horse; my heart horse. When he arrived almost 12 years ago I was 43, out of work, and beginning a mid-life transition. I was finally in a position to realize my life-long dream of a horse to call my own. Over the years, through training and experience, I built a bond of trust with Bear that supported us along our shared path. I had big plans for us to help heal lives and, of course, anticipated that we would grow old together. However, life had other plans.

Shakespeare

Bear died Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Gone in a flash due to torsion colic*. This was the earthquake that shattered our world.

Grief rolled through my body of water the next morning. After a restless sleep I awoke early. My head hurt. My heart ached. I felt nauseous. My disrupted emotional waters ebbed deep into the recesses of my broken heart and flowed back in a deluge of despair. Too powerful to be contained within its usual shores, salty tears spilled down my cheeks. A plume of shock vomit released pressure. Still, that first day the wave rolled over and over trying to re-establish balance within the context of a harsh new reality. With each swell emotional debris polluted the love-imbued waters that had held Bear and I for so long. I felt overwhelmed; exhausted, and this continued in gradually dissipating waves as the days passed.

As soon as I felt able I scrambled back to a routine. Spending time with Sophi, my other horse, helped to ground me as she needed me to be grounded. She had lost Bear, too. This mutual loss deepened our relationship.

About the third week I noticed a pattern. Each Wednesday following the initial swell of grief an echo of that original disorientation rolled through. If I attempted to push through it I felt overwhelmed and debilitated. Recognizing the pattern allowed me to adapt my mid-week routine to one of gentle self-care and reflection. As the echo continued to weaken I realized this break worked well for me, so I incorporated it into my new life without Bear.

Of course, each person’s experience of grief will be different. Our emotional conditioning, life experience, etc. largely determine how we negotiate those unsettled waters. Still, common to all is the fact that grief dredges the depths of our consciousness asking us to recognize, resolve and release those dysfunctional elements of our lives that pollute our waters. It also asks us to heal mind, body and spirit so the turbulent waters can be made still again. An open heart and mind is key to negotiating our way through the waters of grief.

Something else I’ve discovered is that finding a constructive way to honour the memory of the deceased helps to distill the waters and allows us to move on. After my grandmother’s death over 20 years ago I vowed to honour her memory by living my best life. I can thank my gran for the wake-up call I needed to start down the healing path. With Bear, I honour the many important lessons of self-awareness he facilitated. This helps me keep my energy focused on the path of light and healing.

Official Portrait 2013

It’s been two months since Bear’s departure, and while the swells of grief still roll through my body of water, they’re also fading. I miss my dear equine friend, but take comfort in knowing that by being fully present and honouring his memory as an act of love, and focusing on extra self-care on Wednesdays when my waters feels disrupted, I can move on while holding Bear forever in my heart.

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*Torsion is one of the more severe forms of colic, and occurs when the large colon displaces and twists 180 to 360 degrees. … Source: https://horse-canada.com/magazine_articles/unravelling-the-mysteries-of-colic/

This article originally published in Equine Leadership: A model of peaceful and positive living for all … Issue 3 March 2018

Emotion as Messenger: Part II … Sadness

Why are we so afraid of emotions? Why do we stuff them down and mask them in self-deception? What is the real role of emotions in our lives and how can we honour it?

In this 12-part series I attempt to share my understanding of how our much-maligned emotions are programmed to relay important messages to help us live more abundantly.

My reference is The Messages Behind Emotion: An Epona Emotional Fitness Program by bestselling author, teacher and horse trainer, Linda Kohanov; The Language of Emotions by award-winning author and social science researcher Karla McLaren, and Horse Spirit Connections.

Part I … Fear

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“Sadness is often a part of grief or depression, but in its purest form, it’s a healing agent that motivates us to let go of what no longer serves us so we can embrace the next stage of growth and creativity.”
Linda Kohanov

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Denying our feelings is a dangerous coping strategy. Choosing not to feel our feelings keeps the emotions behind them alive (and not necessarily well). These unreleased emotions block our ability to move forward in life and generally leads to more debilitating feelings as we unwittingly self-sabotage.

We need to feel in order to heal. We need to feel … to be real.

Sadness, like grief or anger, is one of those withering emotions that can trap us in a negative downward spiral. While it must be felt, it must also be constructively released if it’s to do its job properly and allow us to advance to the next stage of personal growth.

By definition, sadness, is an uncomfortable, often painful feeling that accompanies some kind of impending loss. Any significant approaching change can be a catalyst for sadness.

Autumn's GirlRecently we lost our beautiful, old rough collie, Sass. In the weeks leading up to her death it was sad to witness this once vivacious girl, who used to love to herd my husband and I around like sheep, sleep away the day and hobble on wobbly legs for a short walk down the street. Watching her slow demise gave me pause, remembering all the happy times we’d shared. I realized, again with sadness, how old age had been creeping in on her for some time and inevitably changed the dynamic of our relationship. Recognizing this made letting go of our dear girl less traumatic for me. I wasn’t terrified of losing her. I’d already lost the youthful essence of Sass to the ravages of time. My commitment to her was that she would not suffer from her own loss of quality life.

Feeling the sadness as the difficult decision to let Sass go approached helped to cushion the blow struck by the impending change. It allowed me to transit from a chapter of my life with her in body to one more with her in spirit without a lot of personal suffering.

When we resist our feelings we unwittingly impose limits on our potential, which ultimately leads us to become stuck in a rut of self-loathing at our inability to move forward. We get in our own way without realizing it.

By embracing the passage of sadness for what it is ~ a messenger marking a shift in our lives ~ we give ourselves permission to enrich the meaning of our experience and move into the next chapter of our potential.

The avalanche of despair

Our inability or unwillingness to feel sadness as it enters our experience (or, yes, our choice to harbour in it) leads us directly to despair. Despair is an avalanche off a mountain of built-up sadness ~ that is the complete absence, or loss, of hope. Since despair plummets us so powerfully, it is more destructive than sadness; more gut-wrenching; more debilitating. It swiftly carries us into the valley of dark despondence where courage and enthusiasm for life become buried under a devastating rock pile of hopeless depression. Buried in the unfelt feelings, our lives become burdensome and claustrophobic. Lost.

How can we dig ourselves out from under the weight of a debilitating emotional load we had no idea we were shouldering until life took us out at the knees?

Horse-inspired healing

Earlier this year I faced a time of profound sadness with the diagnosis of a career-ending injury for my horse, Shakespeare (Bear). I was devastated. All my dressage dreams with my beautiful equine partner gone with a single injury, and he confined to stall rest indefinitely while he healed. For two weeks, as I came to terms with this new reality, life felt surreal. I functioned in a fog of bewilderment and immeasurable sadness.

Riding was going on the back burner. For how long, I did not know. All I knew was that Bear deserved a chance to get well, and that I needed to experience this time with him, allowing my sadness to prepare me for the new path he and I would walk together, whatever that would be. I knew that in order to go forward I needed to release any attachment to what was and open my heart to new possibilities.

My inspiration for renewal was, amazingly, Bear.

For a horse who loves his paddock time this turn of events might have proved devastating. Most horses go stir crazy confined to a 12×12 stall for an extended period of time. Bear, however, adapted quickly to his new routine as prescribed by his attending vet: 120 days of stall rest with 10-15 minutes of hand walking per day. As well, I had to work at my nursing skills, sweating the injured leg and changing his leg wraps daily ~ an intimidating prospect for one with no confidence in her ability to administer first aid.

Chillin' copy 2At first it all felt overwhelming. However, as time passed and I observed how well Bear was adapting to this radical change in his routine, I learned to move through my sadness and embrace the new reality as well. With each day my heart became more resilient and my mind more open. Watching Bear take his confinement in stride gave me the courage to do the same. Instead of resisting the notion of learning how to take care of his injury, I embraced it. As I opened up to the opportunity of caring for my horse differently the pain and sadness I felt gradually subsided and our relationship deepened.

Bear needed me and I needed to be there for him. As it turned out, Bear was a model patient throughout the entire treatment period. Perhaps that had something to do with my ability to be there for him, but I believe it was more about his own instinctive need for down time. Witnessing his acceptance invited me to do the same. In the process, I released my need to suffer and stepped boldly into the new reality ~ a much healthier way of being than walking around feeling sorry for myself, at Bear’s expense.

Beyond the sadness … a silver lining

Always at the back of mind too, however, was the notion that every dark, voluminous cloud is lined with silver.

An icy paddock was all it took for a career-ending injury to a lateral suspensory ligament, however the ensuing veterinary work-up confirmed that Bear’s hind suspensory ligaments were dropping and he was not structurally sound enough to continue in training. Had he not been injured and I’d persisted in our training, his injuries might have been much worse. His injury was a wake-up call; an invitation to shift focus.

The silver lining?

Bear is confirmed as the lead horse in my new Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) practice. As well, after a six-month search we finally welcomed lovely Sophi into our herd. It is with this lovely mare that I may more realistically pursue my dressage dreams.

Eight months have passed since the fateful diagnosis, but taking it head on and working through the sadness has helped me to avoid the avalanche of despair into the valley of despondence into which I could so easily have descended. Instead, Bear and I have deepened our relationship and created room in our hearts for expansion.

Feel the sadness; release the suffering

In summary, by feeling our sadness and recognizing this emotional messenger for what it is ~ a chance to release and rejuvenate ~ we give ourselves permission to be free of suffering and move to the next chapter of our experience. A lot of lives are wasted unwittingly dwelling in the sad place. Making the decision to feel our emotions, including sadness, allows us to open our lives to new horizons and possibilities for growth and expansion. The only other option leaves us stuck, unhappy and unfulfilled.

Do you find yourself mired in sadness? If so, perhaps it’s time to allow the horses to help guide you out.

Be well,

Dorothy

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Healing begins in the heart …

CorEquus

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Next: Part III … Vulnerability

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015