Emotion as Messenger Part V: Negotiating the Waters of Grief

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

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

~*~

“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

~*~

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.

~*~

*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/

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Emotion as Messenger: Part III … Vulnerability

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
Part II … Sadness

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Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.
Brené Brown

~*~

Every day, to one degree or another, we feel vulnerable.

Any change, transition or shift in our lives leaves us feeling as if we’ve lost some aspect of control over our experience. We may not like it, but it is so.

Many, if not most, people do not cope well with feeling vulnerable and, as a result, resist change.

The challenge is that every moment of every day, whether we’re aware of it or not, features some kind of change ~ in our surroundings, our mood, our cell biology, our experience. If we persist in our resistance to the natural unfolding of life we do ourselves the greater harm. We become stuck in dysfunctional life patterns that keep us emotionally incapacitated and make us more easily manipulated, preyed upon, conned and abused. This, in turn, puts us more on the defensive. We either lash out to protect what we perceive to be our everlasting truth, or curl up in an even tighter emotional ball in the shadows where we hope no one will find us. Either way, we are, to put it bluntly, screwed.

Resistance is futile

Is it possible that it’s not, in fact, the fear of change that keeps us stuck, but our resistance to our feelings of vulnerability?

If we feel we are in a rut, surely we want to get out of it. If we have a dream, are we not willing to do what it takes for it to come true? If we feel unhappy, don’t we want to find a way to embrace happiness? All of this requires change. It requires us to step into the vulnerable transition … and every transition presents uncertainty.

Uncertainty, spawned by triumph or tragedy, can leave us feeling powerless, upsetting our emotional equilibrium and knocking down our carefully constructed walls and perceptions. It challenges our beliefs and boundaries and forces us, often kicking and screaming, into opening our minds and hearts to new ways of thinking about, and being with, ourselves and the world around us. To most, this is a frightening proposition. Emotionally exposed and feeling helpless, we retreat to our preferred, and mostly unwitting, escape mechanisms, usually some form of addiction. This could be anything from demeaning self-talk, self-harm and repetition of negative life patterns, to binge shopping, alcoholism, gambling or any other form of unconscious self-flagellation we adopt to beat ourselves up for some perceived personal failure.

As an example, a father abandons his young family and, feeling somehow responsible for his departure, his daughter grows up feeling like she must do something to win and keep the affections of a male other (usually a man as emotionally dysfunctional as her father.) One day way down the road of life, an emotionally intelligent man walks unexpectedly into her life and simply accepts her for who she is. He tries, without much success initially, to help her see that she doesn’t have to do anything to win or keep his affection. The concept is so foreign to the woman that her initial response is to resist and shut down emotionally to protect the old belief system. Her perception of her Self and an old, dysfunctional life pattern is being challenged and even though it represents a positive change, it’s a scary prospect. Relationships with men, as she’s known them, no longer make sense.

“What do you mean I don’t have to do anything? What does that even mean?”

After years of running herself ragged in a repetitive and destructive cycle of perfectionism while seeking validation in the eyes of men too much like her father, she has found herself in unfamiliar territory with a loving, committed man whose only desire is for her to be happy. The woman is caught between two realities ~ the old lie that she’ll never be enough, and the new truth that she is, in fact, enough as she is. In the end, she seeks professional help to release the old destructive life pattern and reconcile the new, healthier reality she believes to be her truth but cannot seem to integrate.

A life-altering experience, even a good one, can leave us feeling profoundly insecure about who we are for a while. Being open to the change and willing to work with it, however, is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves.

MeditationThanks to a horse

As prey animals horses are, as Canadian horse trainer, Chris Irwin, describes: ” … victims waiting to happen.” Their hyper-vigilence is their protection. Whether a white plastic bag is flapping in the breeze 50 feet away or a more obvious predator is entering their environment, horses are able to identify a threat instantly and take care of themselves as necessary, meeting energy with energy.

This ability to reflect different energetic stimuli in their environment and capacity for non-judgment is what makes horses such valuable teachers in the arena of personal growth and self-discovery. In the presence of a horse we find the mirror of our truth. This can be uncomfortable, but more importantly, it can be revealing … and healing.

Horses reflect back to us the energy we emit. If we feel overwhelmed and mask it with a smile, it’s the energy behind the smile to which they respond. For a horse to feel comfortable in our presence we need to be our authentic selves, coming out from behind the mask and laying bare our true feelings. By doing this we demonstrate empathy for the horse’s own vulnerability and a bridge of mutual understanding and respect is built. Knocking down our defensive walls to allow ourselves to live fully in the moment, however, is key.

A personal story to illustrate:

For most of my life, due to early childhood trauma, I’ve felt vulnerable about speaking up. To avoid the threat of “feeling exposed” it was easier for me to hide behind the opinion of others; to linger in the shadows unseen; to put up with the bad behaviour of others at my own expense, and to blend in with the crowd than to stand up and say how I felt. When I did speak up I was usually shamed in some way, so I learned to keep my mouth shut. I fell into the role of “perpetual assistant” backing (and leading) other peoples’ causes, instead of championing my own. When it came to speaking up for my Self, I felt daunted and doomed.

In my middle years, I started working with an objective third-party to explore the emotional trauma that had kept me stuck in this debilitating cycle. While on this journey, I enrolled in the Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning (FEEL) certification course offered at Horse Spirit Connections in Tottenham, Ontario. It was while I was engaged in an exercise with a horse named Paris that my healing journey was taken to a profound new level.

An epiphany occurred during my first reflective round pen experience. Part of the exercise is to identify, without thinking about it too much, a heart’s desire to share with the horse. What immediately came to mind was: “To be able to speak freely and without judgement.”

Upon entering the large round pen I stood in the middle and waited, feeling totally exposed and vulnerable. Interacting with Paris in front of a group of strangers, albeit a lovely group of supportive women (and a man), felt totally uncomfortable. Lovely Paris stood patiently some 15 feet away, waiting. I couldn’t speak. Eventually, she rattled the gate as if cueing me to “make noise,” but I didn’t get it. I was wound up in the pain of not being able to freely express myself. Frozen in an old pattern I just wanted to hide; be invisible. I started walking the round pen, feeling aimless, hoping Paris would follow. Of course, she didn’t.

After a few minutes I left the round pen, disappointed in myself. Feeling like I’d failed, the tearful, emotional self-flagellation began. During a supportive 10-minute de-brief a facilitator asked, “Why didn’t you talk to Paris?” I couldn’t say. She asked if I would be willing to go and try again. What had I to lose?

Returning to the round pen, I stood in the middle once again and gathered my courage. I did my best to ignore the observers and forced myself to talk aloud to Paris who was, again, standing by the gate. I said whatever came to mind: told her she was named after a beautiful city; explained that being unable to express myself was old; mentioned her black coat and how beautiful she was. And then I told her how her colour reminded me of the shadow I’d been living under all my life and how I so desperately wanted to shine; to be heard.

Incredibly, as soon as I gave voice to this vulnerable piece of my Self Paris began licking and chewing (a sign of acknowledgment). Then she turned and deliberately walked toward me. I couldn’t believe it. She’d heard me. I doubled over in sobs. This gentle, non-judgemental being was acknowledging the connection I’d made to my vulnerable Self.

She stopped beside me and held space for several minutes so I could embrace this pivotal moment. “It’s time to step out of the shadow and shine,” she seemed to say as she stood there, comfortingly. She allowed me to stroke her neck and then, after a few moments, moved away, her work complete.

This time as I thanked her and left the round pen I felt calmly empowered. Paris had shown me I could speak my truth without judgement ~ mine or anyone else’s. It was a magical experience that transformed my life in so many ways. Whenever I feel vulnerable about speaking up, I remember Paris and find my courage to speak/write again.

In summary, life by its very nature feels vulnerable. The sooner we learn to accept this fact and work openly with it, the sooner we’ll find the courage and strength to stop self-sabotaging with old negative life patterns and start finding the confidence to live and speak our truth.

And the horses can show us how …

Be well,

Dorothy

~*~

Healing begins in the heart …

CorEquus

~*~

Next: Part IV: Anger

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015