Last Friday I was riding home from work with our wise-beyond-her-years Chicago admin/receptionist Jenny when our conversation turned to coping with loss. This had not been an easy winter for Jenny, who had lost most of her earthly belongings in an apartment fire that left her homeless in February. During the catastrophic event and the aftermath, Jenny remained steady and positive, giving support and compassion to our patients while maintaining an impressively professional demeanor in her work. Everyone at the Moon was inspired.
Since I had been noodling a blog about loss around in my head, I thought it would be useful to ask Jenny about the fire and the strategies she used for recovery. I thought it would provide a foil for the losses I could write about from personal experience (miscarriages and a stillbirth) and for the kinds of losses we encounter at the Moon. These are largely emotional losses – hopes and dreams of pregnancy, failed cycles, miscarriages and stillbirth. At times these losses are coupled with the loss of resources, in cases where couples have paid out of pocket for unsuccessful treatments, but they are largely emotional. Jenny’s loss was concrete – literally valuable possessions as well as priceless mementos that were completely destroyed by a bolt from the blue.
“I kept telling myself that there is a bigger picture,” she said. ”It was the old saying that ‘things happen for a reason’ that gave me strength. I really focused on staying positive and looking for the good that might come.”
If you smell a cliche here, keep reading. Jenny’s next words were profound.
“I think it’s human nature to contract when we experience loss. We contract around the pain, we avoid situations that remind us of our loss and we try to avoid the emotions – sadness, anger and envy- that come when our life seems to be in shambles compared to those around us. More than anything I tried to remain open. To emotions, to help from others and even to situations that could be painful.”
As Jenny shared her experiences of loss and healing, I was instantly struck by their similarity to my own journey. When my first full term pregnancy ended in a stillbirth of a little girl at 38 weeks, I received one strong message from the universe: STAY OPEN. Take every condolence call, accept every offer of comfort from friends, eat every casserole that was delivered and, above all, cry every tear that I needed to cry. For a very introverted and private person (at least before the creation of Pulling Down the Moon) this was indeed a radical strategy. My entire being wanted to crawl in a hole and avoid contact with others and with my pain.
In Jenny’s case, this call to open was an intuition. In my own case, I believe the message came through my yoga practice. The simple practice of stretching that has been part of my life for so many years kept calling to me to use the same techniques that keep my body healthy to heal my mind. If you’ve ever been a beginning yogi, you know it can be an uncomfortable business at first to stretch tight muscles. Yet, with practice, the discomfort eventually releases and gives way to spaciousness and calm. This holds true for emotional challenges, too. When we choose to stay open and experience our loss we can actually release pain and suffering. When we “close” around these painful emotions we may not ever let them go. In fact, we will often consciously or unconsciously go to great lengths to avoid the aspects of life that trigger past trauma and in doing so greatly circumscribe the scope of our experience.
There seems to be an energetic rule in play here, and the similarity of Jenny’s and my experience drove this home. In the face of loss, rather than constrict, we must look for ways to open. Begin with a simple physical practice of stretching and breathing. Find support where you can tell your story and cry tears with people who understand. Eat the casserole. Like George Costanza from Seinfeld, do the opposite of what feels comfortable and stretch instead of hunker.
These are not easy words of advice. Yet, there is a promise of courage and self-discovery in them. And if you need help getting there our classes, teachers and gifted practitioners are here to help. Have you experienced loss? What worked for you?