breathable grief; breathable air

a fireman at work
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Start with stuckness

I grew up in a family that was emotionally constipated. The only permissible emotion was anger usually accompanied by yelling, shouting and SCREAMING.

Though I may have been kissed when I was a baby, it’s a time I never remembered. So – so what? Like mostly all mothers of that time they were constantly yelling.

Our mother was constantly criticizing my sister’s and mine every move, phrase, appearance and yelling when we didn’t fit her ideas of perfection, I guess. Our father was a picture of vitriolic rage of a beet exploding in a pressure cooker with an implicit threat of violence always there ready to strike. He’d exercise his rageful right arm and fist by shouting at those damn Democrats on the tv news.

He told me once: “I made a promise never to hit my kids, like my father did.”  Well he broke that promise with me a few times.  But did that phrase mean that he would never hit us or he wouldn’t do it exactly like his father hit him? Like so many things that never got answered.

The “highs” of emotion are temporary

My mother seemed to be sad and anxious about 70 percent of the time and mad the rest of the time. One time she burst into my room when I was 13 or 14 in her dramatic and explosive way. I was relatively happy and ensconced in building my plastic clipper ship model and I just burst into tears for no apparent reason.

“You’re such a cry-baby,” she told me. “Be a man.”

It took me many years to realize that I had been feeling her emotions and then acting them out.

 

Stoic Death Dealing in a fortress of, well… walls

In our family crying wasn’t tolerated. My cousin’s young daughter or five or six died and I shed some tears when I found out. My mother, father and sister looked at me and regarded me strangely.

In February 1973 a phone call came in and my father somberly announced that his sister, my Aunt Rosie had died. Nobody talked about it being good Catholics and all but she had died due to complications from suicide. I went into my bedroom and cried for 45 minutes. My parents didn’t cry. Nobody at the funeral cried either. It was all that stiff-upper-lip-New England, Connecticut Yankee kind of thing.

Full expression of grief is not permitted in some cultures. Much of the grief is rationalized, fragmented and suppressed, repressed and denied. Loss, grief and sadness goes “underground” and often becomes righteous anger as a defense against the “weaker” vulnerable feelings.

vitriolic rage of a beet exploding in a pressure cooker

In general, we as humans have a problem with loss of any kind. We hate being deprived of anything even if its detrimental to our health. When I stopped smoking cigarettes over 35 years ago I replaced it with breathing cleaner air.

When a person dies or spirit leaves their corporeal body we experience a loss that overwhelms the senses and is heartbreaking. Nothing is quite as impactful as the death of a loved one. Even if we experience them in the realms beyond the loss of the body it is often only briefly. Our attachment to the sensory world shapes our identity and its loss is a stunning and overwhelming event that can produce a variety of results.

Depending on how we were raised, how we express our grief, and the layers of grief that may be caught in our musculature, skeletal or organs for many years may be expressed in somatic pain. If raised in an emotionally constipated family like me, where the predominant emotions expressed were fear/anger based then we may be ensconced in an atmosphere of grief without realizing it. This could be characterized as a personality stance where security is sought by idealizations of the past projected on a present or future. This is a set-up bound to trigger feelings of loss and addictions to power-powerlessness dynamics that repeat in a variety of addictive cycles.

 

Living in the past where the rent is cheaper

Living in an environment where generations of fear producing anger suppresses the so-called “weaker” or vulnerable emotions produces cycles of denial, suppression and repression. This, in-turn, produces greater and more elaborate cycles of frustration within generational family systems keeping the expression of grief at “acceptable” levels and thus preventing its release in the moment.

Through many years studying and treating many people with mental / emotional health (illness) issues I realized that I was the stronger person in my family because of my willingness to display my vulnerability emotionally. I lived through it felt wounded and recovered from it. I learned that I was the “scapegoat” or “identified patient”. My mother, father and sister placed / projected their unexpressed feelings onto me. I acted it out for them and they blamed and shamed me for having done so.

Often wounded people unable or unwilling to express grief and sadness are seeking feelings of constant love either in a relationship, through an addiction and/or excessive physical activity. They may go from relationship to relationship, maybe marathon runners or be addicted to a substance or activity to feel full or feel at peace or feel happy to the exclusion of feeling empty, unloved, anxious, depressed etc.

 

Living in peace with a mess of emotions

Finding the equanimity of a neutral place inside, observing fleeting joys, happiness, sadness, grief and loss seems to make life, loss and grief bearable and allows for a kind of magic to emerge. From a tolerance of emptiness, stress, anxiety, loss and grief comes a tolerance to these feelings – that they are only temporary. The “highs” of emotion are temporary as well. From that in-between place where the compassionate neutral observer dwells comes a love that has no object and a realization / embodiment that the pursuit of happiness is an illusion. As I work to shed that illusion inner happiness is mine albeit temporary in a world of ego.

 

Here are a few mistakes where we betray ourselves:

–  Trading in the idea that more money will make us feel safe (greed is good)

Using money to express love – that’s what my father did. I think many people are stuck in the “more money will make me feel good, safe – happy, satisfied etc.” The trouble with that is the “more” part is never ending. Addiction to money, when enough money is achieved then money is also power – do as I say not as I do and so on.

One day I decided that I had enough to live on and I allowed my feelings to change.

 

 –  Living in the past

This is especially true past the age of 50. Longing for the good old days. The use of memory to paint a better picture of the past rather than the full picture. Basing present decisions on premises that held together in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

One of the best techniques I learned along the way is the Socratic Method or asking questions and receiving answers. This method allows us to be connected to others in a forum of community to assist in solving problems – community problems when more than 2 people are involved in the method.

 

– Looking to a thing to make us happy

In short consumerism, we have been trained out of citizenship into buying stuff. (and throwing that stuff away into a dump that has become the nightmare of a world that will kill us aka the Climate Crisis.)

The real stuff is the love that binds us all together and tolerating the differences when love falters. I’ve been thinking about how to move my life into a greater sustainable place.

What does it mean to live sustainably?

 

And finally, at least for now

My father died on my birthday in 2006. He visited me three times around the time of his death and once about 6 months after his death. Since then he has been around a few times. I have a better relationship with him now than when he was in a body. I am able to celebrate my birthday without the sadness interfering with my happiness and joy.

 

 

 

Meditation and Transformation

aged ancient asian buddhism
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Ordinary waking consciousness emanates from ego and attachment. Ego – the “I” that is oneself is attached to everything. This is the way of the outer world. We forget about our “inner world” and come to believe that ego and attachment are all that is. In other words, ego, language and thought is caught up in attachment.

I’m sure you have heard or read that meditation is about quieting the mind. I can only write to the meditation that I know: Vipassanā Meditation or Insight Meditation. This kind of meditation works with the breath and helps to quiet the mind. It takes practice to quiet the mind as many who practice meditation already know.

The mind creates what is known as a stream of consciousness which includes all matter of attachments – thoughts, memories, ideas, fantasies and so on. Anyone who has daydreamed in a classroom, or in boring business meetings falls into the stream of consciousness. The stream is constantly flowing so that when we stop being present our attention falls into it and is taken away by the stream. The draw of the stream is one of attachment – a kind of addiction so common that it is not referred to as an addiction. We have accepted that attachment / addiction to thoughts, language, fantasies, identity, status and so on is all there is, so we never come to realize that all attachments are distractions that form a recycling whirlpool that eats itself. The distraction is one that leads away from peace and happiness. On a deeper level attachment is the distraction from oneness with all beings.

On my first Vipassanā Meditation retreat over 35 years ago the facilitator, Bhante aka the Venerable Dharmawara Mathahera, a 92-year-old Cambodian Buddhist monk sent us to meditate on our own. We had spent four days in group meditation.

It was a muggy and overcast day. I spread my blanket on the ground and sat. I began to notice my breath, in and out. Flies landed on my bare skin, tickling the hairs of my arms, and I laughed aloud. Mosquitoes landed on me and did not bite me. Deeper into the meditation, with my eyes closed, I felt presences near me. I opened my eyes a slit and saw a squirrel, a rabbit and a skunk sitting in a semicircle in front of me. My thought was, “this is normal.” I continued to meditate.

When it was done I felt at peace with the world.

 

The Current World

The world of attachment is filled with divisiveness and antagonistic rivalries; as you may have noticed. This is to be expected in the cycle of history we find ourselves within.

According to the scholar – Bidhu Dev Misra we are near the end of the Ascending Kali Yuga. It’s ends in 2025 and is followed by a 300-year transition period before the Ascending Dwapara Yuga begins (seen End Notes for more information about the Yugas).

Kali is the goddess/god of destruction – a phoenix that destroys itself to rise from the ashes. Opposite the 6,000 years of the Descending and Ascending Kali Yugas are the 6,000 years of the Satya Yugas – an age of oneness where there is no ego, no religion, no money… only peace, harmony and oneness.

Characteristic of the age of destruction is both a fear of “the end” as characterized by rabid divisive thoughts and actions as a way to obliterate the end by hanging on to a short-term power, a short-term quarterly dividend – in short, the greed and lust for power. Ego, attachment and thinking are in a whirlpool of oppositional thinking that seeks its own destruction.  This might be funny except for a denial and resistance to the existential threat of the climate crisis.

 

The Inner World

Through Vipassanā Meditation a quieting of the mind can begin to manifest. Ego is surrendered in the moment and attachment is sometimes released in the space between an inhalation of breath and its exhalation. A regular practice of meditation can allow the ego to float and attachment’s roots to be loosened.

A wondrous aspect of the inner world is revealed as ego and attachment are released. A profound peace and simple happiness become apparent. Thought clears, consciousness expands, and time ceases to exist.

This “world” beyond ego and attachment is the beginning of the continuum of enlightenment. It lasts all too briefly as the worlds of ego, linear time and attachment come into claim the vestiges of enlightenment scantily clad through memory.

The Current World as seen from the Inner World

By freeing ourselves from time and attachment, the world of the Kali Yuga – the current world becomes evident. All thought in this epoch arises from attachment and as a result is not original thought. Attached thoughts swirl from a stream (as in the stream of consciousness) into a whirlpool (or black hole) to obliterate thought for the increasing enslavement of humankind.

There is no “we”. All are separate, divided into smaller camps of “us” and “them” living in the houses of anger, rage, hatred, envy and greed as reflected in:

  • political camps,
  • statistical studies measuring a nation divided as much as in the times of the US Civil War,
  • science and technology as in reducing to understand, and
  • predatory capitalism as in dividing goods and services into smaller amounts – conquering and destroying smaller businesses in favor of the most profit, the most money and the least or no taxes.

Thought and action is divided into the dyad of good versus evil, right versus wrong and so on with no middle ground of reconciliation, governance and/or compromise.

The action of the dyad is choking itself and headed towards self-destruction characteristic of the Kali Yuga time cycle.

 

Possible Solutions

If we are to survive climate crisis as a species then as individuals we could choose:

  1. Beginning the day with a 30 to 50-minute mediation.
  2. Using the meditation as an anchor throughout the day to remind us to choose kindness, compassion and right (no-acting out) anger to right wrongs for the good of all.
  3. Political Actions whether that be donating / volunteering time, money as a protest against excluding people from equal participation in a democratic process
  4. Voting

 

Due to the enormous amounts of money contributed by billionaires and corporations to co-op the government (US) we as a people must take back our government to save it from dictatorial types and re-establish a democracy.

 

This can be done from a compassion stance where neutral ground can be established – once again – to govern as opposed to rule.

 

End Notes:

https://psychesweather.wordpress.com/2020/01/21/the-locus-of-consciousness/

 

https://www.bibhudevmisra.com/2012/07/end-of-kali-yuga-in-2025-unraveling.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Smudge of Grief

Smudgez

Having extricated myself from the river of grief (and now on a boat floating on it)* I’ve also noticed its smudge is everywhere. Having done a small bit of work on my relationship to grief I see it now as slightly separate from me. There are few people who are completely free of grief’s smudge, though through denial we like to think that we are. It’s only those who are working on being present that may have overcome grief’s longer-term effects.

In the hierarchical epoch of the patriarchy everyone is in a state of grief or loss

Many become fully immersed in the river of grief and never fully release it, but think that we have done so. It’s more likely that we live it’s smudge without knowing its stuck or smeared on us and we carry it with us everywhere. We’ve resigned ourselves to it, accepted it and cognitively reframed grief as a fact of life to assist in our survival.

In the hierarchical epoch of the patriarchy everyone is in a state of grief or loss throughout the life span. Only those who have achieved a modicum of mastery or a state of transcendental enlightenment may have overcome the savagery of grief’s toll.

Symptoms from the smudge of grief:

  • Longing for / romanticizing the old days and angry about current life in juxtaposition to the old days. Anger becomes a way of life possibly oscillating between grief (sadness), fear and anger. Attachment to the old romanticized “past” to the point of putting the brakes on politically and a desire to return to the promise of simpler times.
  • Giving up or trading in on simple happiness in the present for a perfectionist idealized past or future.
  • Addicted to a substance outside ourselves (not drugs or alcohol per se) that we believe will make us happy and feel secure (more money, better job, etc.). Existential addiction is about filling a hole inside us that has grief as one of its contributing emotions.
  • Rationalizing and compartmentalization of grief experiences. We often unconsciously model our expressions of grief based on our parents’ behaviors, attitudes and beliefs. The greater the intellectualization / fearfulness of “weaker” emotion states such as vulnerable emotion states – crying when sad, or frustrated then the more shame and constriction may become part of the grief process often truncating the process.
  • We often have expectations that the stages of grief happen “in-order” one time and “we’re done” with this.
  • I’ve seen many people in mid-life 40s to 60s (possibly younger) where grief is interrupted – a person shuts down their grief process and gives up on their inner world collapsing into their parents’ belief systems partially or whole-heartedly. It is at this time that they begin to romanticize their past and adopt old-world belief systems to cope with change.

For the people that allow for grief or any emotion such as love or joy to come and go they have loosened their attachment to past and present experiences and can face the fear of change in a less rigid fashion. However due to our ego we are all subject to attachments that grief and/or loss creates to one degree or another.

Loss is an intrinsic part of our lives.

Grief is closely allied with attachment. The very nature of being human is an identification to an idea, a person, a relationship – in short to the “stuff” of life. Attachment is the foundation of identity and memory is its tool. Attachment is at the root of unnecessary suffering. The greater the attachment to a person, wife/husband/partner, a child/son/daughter, a family, a community; a job, to an idea, to a belief and so on the more grief surrounds the loss. As humans we are all programmed to avoid feelings of loss to one degree or another based on our identity and beliefs.

Humans cannot bear loss.

Loss is an intrinsic part of our lives. Some loss we choose, such as quitting a job or relocating, this doesn’t seem so bad because we feel in control of the nature of the loss. Nevertheless, we still feel it. Deciding to move out of a relationship and although this is a loss we control it can break our heart. Other losses go deeper. The loss of a loved one through death is one that immediately comes to mind. When we experience early childhood trauma such as mental, physical, spiritual and/or sexual abuse by a parent or relatives perhaps this is the most pernicious grief of all. A parent with whom we feel love perpetuates an act of sexual abuse or worse. There is the love and there’s the violation, the confusion and the grief. This is loss and grief based on intimate attachments.

Loss and grief have become systemic in an increasingly divisive world of the hierarchical system of the patriarchy. In this kind of world there are winners and losers. The winners appear to be the super-rich and the powerful who sometimes even without knowing it oppress those without money and/or power. Many are driven to become winners through achievement and there is nothing wrong with this. It becomes insular and selfish when “others” who may be termed as losers through attributes of laziness, stupidity and are therefore cast out of the privileges of the winner-loser competition. Those deemed to be unworthy of playing the winner loser game are the invisible people, the poor, the people in prison, the homeless, women, minorities, immigrants, the list goes on; under the heel of racism, sexism, ageism, leftism for example. The class system in the USA has always been apparent to those left out. The struggling middle-classes bear the brunt of the heel of oppression by the rich by accepting less wage parity, while clinging to the myth of “work hard and you’ll succeed”. The winners are also losers because of attachment to and /or the addiction in this situation because of the need for more power, more money, more fame. There is never enough. Slavery to “more” makes the so-called winners, losers on an endless wheel of acquiring “more”.

our birthright is happiness and enlightenment

Humans cannot bear loss. Addiction is a prime example of how loss is unbearable. When therapies focus on what’s in the way of a healthy lifestyle in order to assist with healing an addiction this leads to an inevitable confrontation with loss. Looking at loss in this way is emotionally overwhelming. Healing the addictive process through a focus on obstacles fails. We can’t bear loss. This spans the gambit between addictive substances and relationships. In order to confront loss and the grief we feel from loss, we must replace the loss with something positive. When we focus on the positive replacement of the loss in present time then loss can be slowly ameliorated.

For example: I chose to breath cleaner air when I weaned my way off of smoking cigarettes. The clutching, grabbing neediness in me began to fade. It’s been 37 years since I chose to breathe cleaner air instead of inhaling smoke from cigarettes. That was easy compared to the heartbreaking work of releasing grief from the wounds of incest.

Underneath loss and grief is love. Love holds all other emotions. I also remember the words of Malidoma Somē – grief is the most common human emotion.

Attachment can only be released for a very short time.

Grief is the most common emotion because our lives appear to be about loss. As children of Western Civilization, we a trained to look outside ourselves for happiness. Even in the US The Declaration of Independence we are encouraged to push for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We don’t necessarily see that our birthright is happiness and enlightenment and that we are peeling away the illusion that prevent us from feeling it. We assume that feelings of fulfillment, peace and enlightenment are “over there” to pursue.

Corporal life is temporary, life of spirit transcends death. There is small love and big love, neither of which can be compared with the other. Small love may feel big when we have a partner with whom we are bonded and they pass away, cheat, or betray us and/or themselves. Big love will always hold a connection with one that has passed that seemingly impenetrable boundary of death. The longing may be excruciating and unbearable, staying present and reaching out to friends and professionals for help is one step in staying present. It’s not the only path.

Emotional maturity (EM) can be characterized as being able to hold contradictory emotions in awareness without a strong attachment to either emotional state and feel okay or neutral about our self. Cultivating a witness self leads to emotional maturity through suspending judgement and observing ourselves and our behaviors.

 

Attachment can only be released for a very short time. When we think or say “I” ego returns to claim an experience that the witness has observed.  That is not a bad thing it is only the way of attachment. The witness may observe our being feeling grief and joy simultaneously. This is a paradox to be sure.

 

*see previous article –

in a river of grief, then on a boat