Holding the Self in Collective Grief
Navigating instability and uncertainty are undoubtedly aspects of the human experience. And so is grief. Especially during a global crisis. Many of us may be feeling this now more than ever.
I, like so many of us, am trying to navigate what it means to feel everything that I am feeling, while also holding it together. I’m not sure how that is possible without naming the obvious. While the word “grief” is rarely spoken out loud and is quite the unpopular topic that truly doesn’t get enough airtime, it is incredibly important to name. It is also important to acknowledge that grief, just like love, is all around us. And it is uncomfortable.
“WE ARE UNCOMFORTABLE BECAUSE EVERYTHING IN OUR LIFE KEEPS CHANGING — OUR INNER MOODS, OUR BODIES, OUR WORK, THE PEOPLE WE LOVE, THE WORLD WE LIVE IN.”
—Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance
The personal work that I’ve done with grief is varied— I’ve experienced heartache in the form of the death of a loved one, the loss of jobs, growing out of friendships, break-ups, a separation and then ending of a relationship and each hurt in different ways. Life and death are happening all of the time, often at the same time. But it wasn’t until my father’s death that I really understood this on a somatic level.
His passing woke me up to the idea that we are always in a cycle of grief. It is always already happening. I’ve observed that at any given time, we are either in a space of love, longing, or loss. And these spaces can overlap and occur in no particular order.
Sometimes we hold them all. Right now, during this pandemic, I’m feeling all three. I have deep grief for all of the loss of experiences—both planned and unknown—during this time. I am also mourning the very real physical loss of people and businesses and places that will not be there when we transition from this historic moment in time. I am also experiencing longing— mainly to travel safely and to gather safely with people again. And I am feeling BIG love for my home, my city, and the state of California. I’m feeling big love for and from my family, loved ones, and my friends near and far. I am also feeling big love for my work and my ability to do some of my work safely from home.
Grief is the heart’s most honest response to loss and if there is one thing that this experience has taught us is that there is grief in every-day-life—some of it small, some great. Regardless, when we grieve, we are invited to fully feel the honesty of our pain, the extent of its truth and its impact.
THE CYCLES OF GRIEF ARE ALWAYS ALREADY HAPPENING
If we think of cycles of grief in terms of 3 phases—love, longing, and loss—we can begin to accept that we are almost always experiencing one aspect of grief, which might allow us to meet ourselves more tenderly. I believe this is how we navigate holding ourselves in collective grief.
We might think of love from the space of our hearts. The heart holds an intelligence like no other organ in the body. The heart contains neurons (just like our brains) that communicate our feelings, our emotions to the brain. Our heart also contains our gratitude, our hopes, and our connection to ourselves and to others.
We might think of longing as a space of missing, of wishing. This space also holds our attachments to people, to things, places, or our plans.
We might think of loss as a space of transition. Transition can include death, separation, nothingness (and sometimes in its place, everything), and usually involves heartache.
These cycles are our teachers. I have found that presence and reflection allow us to hold each in its myriad of forms and its variety of expression. Mindfulness teaches us to be with what is always changing. The practice allows us to be able to meet impermanence moment after moment. While the line between separation and connection is often blurred by a more present grief (or additional loss), making space for all of it to exist is one of the best ways to hold it; to process it. It is from here where we can explore this liminal aspect of our humanity, and see its beauty.
MINDFULNESS + JOURNALING PRACTICE
Here are a few inquiries to best practice meeting the self during a time of collective grief. I invite you to find a comfortable way to be, to have a pen and paper if you process better with writing, or you have the option to reflect individually.
Begin by placing a palm over the heart and take 3 deep breaths. Repeat this before each new inquiry. You are more than welcome to respond only to the ones that speak to you most.
Which part of the grief cycle feels most present to you in this moment?
Where do you feel love in the body?
Where do you feel longing in the body?
Where do you feel loss in the body?
What has been the biggest lesson in all of this for you? What have you learned about yourself?
Why do you think that we as a society don’t talk about grief?
What is the most uncomfortable part of where you are in the grief cycle?
What other practices have supported your grief?
What has communicating with loved ones about your grief looked like? Felt like?
What is one thing that you’d say to someone in a season of love? Longing? Loss?
What is one thing you wished someone had told you?
What is one thing that you need to hear right now?
While we may be uncomfortable with the erratic, wild unknown nature of life and it’s uncertainty, might we find a moment of beauty and honesty by simply honoring ourselves in it.
Author Bio Nkechi Deanna Njaka, MSc. is the founder of the creative agency NDN Integrated Lifestyle Studio as well as the co-founder of Sitting Matters, a mindful + creative lifestyle brand. She is also a meditation teacher and a 2017-2018 YBCA Artist Fellow. Nkechi majored in neuroscience and dance at Scripps College and went on to complete an MSc in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. With a background in neuroscience and dance, she has spent the majority of her life investigating the relationship between the brain and the body and has always felt the significance of their integration. For several years, Nkechi worked as a neuroscientist as well as a professional modern dancer and choreographer. Through this work, she discovered that mindfulness and creativity are crucial for sustaining individual and global wellbeing. When not exploring mindfulness and other wellness practices, Nkechi spends her time discovering ways to participate more fully in the arts and travel. She currently lives in SF. You can find her here: IG: @ndnlifestylist.