Discomfort & Grief and other Wisdom Teachers

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t was 3:40am when my phone rang, the morning of November 8th. I had spent the week before more intensely helping my dad take care of my mom who was transitioning into her last breaths here in the earthy realms. My sister had arrived so we had left to get some sleep before returning. Alas, the time had finally arrived, or at least was more near than not, and so we flew over to my folks house on a wing and a prayer.

The final hours were quiet. And, around 8am, my mom’s breath changed, yet again, until we were met with silence. Her appearance had morphed so much in the last days, the medical practitioner in me was in awe. And now, right in front of my eyes, the casing of her life force sat still. Something took over me and I went about the ritual and rites of passage that guided my heart. I sang to her, cleaned her body and her hair and added flowers and stones. My daughter read from the small book my mom had by her bedside, soothing words by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. And we sat. Her body hardened very quickly but her belly was still warm hours later.

The days that followed were full of a lot of things, most of which I cannot remember so well. Something began to become very clear, I was starting to follow what I now remember as a grief ritual. Guidance of Spirit told me to spend 40 days in observance of her passing. The grief that followed later was totally different than the immediate mourning, and honestly, much more difficult. This immediate term grief was met with a visceral need to follow a series of gentle suggestions, made by Spirit, to help me navigate this time full of ethereal conversations and long walks with ancient ancestors through swamping terrain and a daily eagle filled sky. I bathed with flowers and filled the tub with both tears of sorrow and laughter. I walked by the river, both with and against the flow, watching the way the wind moved across the ripple. I took my daughter to school every single day like it was the most important job I’d ever have and I sat with my dad. I don’t remember too much of it, honestly, except the actions and the prayer. I had mostly disconnected from the earthly world and could feel my heart near my mom.

And then, the 40th day arrived. I had gotten word from my dear friend and oracle, Shayne, that it was time to send my mom off and call myself back in. I was met to stay on this planet and it was time to come back. So I set off to the place that holds the depths in my heart very close, where the prarie grasslands meet the vast mountain terrain. The days that followed gave me a chance to say goodbye and honor my mom in a way that felt connected, difficult, funny and silly at times and necessary. It also gave me a chance to reconnect with myself and begin to re-engage with the earthly world. I had no custom to follow, but it didn’t matter really, I could feel my grief dance come alive with the fortitude of ancient tradition.

There wasn’t a day that went by that didn’t feel all the feelings. Discomfort became a familiar companion. Grief has such a unique way of showing up. For me I knew I needed to give myself time in the pain and sadness but I so very badly wanted it all to go away. The practices I had come to rely on most in my daily life for good health and balance were not working for me. Sitting still and being quiet and working with the breath were completely inaccessible. But having had a long time practice and the good fortune to be around others who do as well, were good reminders. I decided to stay close to my Faith, and stay with it. Stay with the discomfort. Breath here. Stay here. Do not run away here. And, sure enough, over time, I begin to learn many things about discomfort. I worked with my friend Kerry who guided me through lessons of learning from the great wisdom teachers of grief. They paraded through my life with such authenticity and integrity, I was in awe. I didn’t understand their language at first, so they called me closer. They had a lot to say. They showed me how to be in discomfort in this particular way. They invited me to sit near still, dark water and listen. When I did I saw amazing things. I saw into the depths of the Earth and my reflection cast with such a soft, quiet glow. I saw life beginning to form all around me and a flourishing eco-system alive and well. I saw delicacy and intricacy in the most beautiful ways. I saw quiet, in form and flavor. It was spectacular. And Grief said “yes, indeed”.

I do not think that all my grief was resolved then, nor do I think it was/is easy. There is much more to it, but that’s for later. I did learn a lot through this process about discomfort and being with difficult emotions. Most great wisdom traditions teach a lot about being in discomfort, in fact, it was one of the things that solidified my practices so profoundly years before. For me, the best of it is in the knowing that being with the discomfort, as opposed to running away from it, is actually good medicine. It increases our bandwidth, grows compassion and empathy, can settle our nervous systems and often has a profound impact on the way we live our lives moving forward. But this is a concept that is not very popular in modern day, western mind. We want our pain to disappear quickly, our children to be happy and to have immediate relief when things get hard. However, in my understanding, usually there are no quick fixes. Often in fact, a quick fix could actually complicate or deepen the situation. So, for me, learning to be in the discomfort is essential to weathering difficulty.

I have noticed that being in discomfort has gotten easier. I have also noticed that I am able to find a deeper sense of compassion and empathy for others which translates to myself, as well. I feel much more free and less fearful these days. I believe sitting with the difficulty has taught me some of my most important life lessons so far. My tendency towards running away is beginning to shift into a place of staying close in.

start close in

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To find
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poe