(Article en français ici)
Today, I’d like to talk to you about a Facebook post from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of (among others) Eat, Pray, Love, the international best-seller (my article about it is right here).
Elizabeth regularly shares posts on what she is learning from life and has been doing so for years now. Many of her shares have been of great help to me along the years. They often made me think about how I did things or how I saw them. And even though sometimes I did not think I was affected by the concept she explained, I eventually was, one way or another.
The post I’d like to share here has been written by Ms. Gilbert in a particular context but what she explains can be fundamentally useful to anyone, like a general technique to manage one’s emotions. This is how I took it anyway.
Months ago, Elizabeth lost her wife, Rayya, to cancer. Since then, Elizabeth has been trying to get back on track, one day at a time, one hour at a time. In this post, she shares what she has learnt about Grief.
(You’ll find the entire post here).
« People keep asking me how I’m doing, and I’m not always sure how to answer that. It depends on the day. It depends on the minute. Right this moment, I’m OK. Yesterday, not so good. Tomorrow, we’ll see.
Here is what I have learned about Grief, though.
I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love.
The only way that I can “handle” Grief, then, is the same way that I “handle” Love — by not “handling” it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.
When Grief comes to visit me, it’s like being visited by a tsunami. I am given just enough warning to say, “Oh my god, this is happening RIGHT NOW,” and then I drop to the floor on my knees and let it rock me. It’s a full-body experience. To resist it is to be brutalized by it. You just bow down — that’s all you CAN do — and you let this thing roll through your heart and body and mind, in all its vehemence.
How do you survive the tsunami of Grief?
By being willing to experience it, without resistance. By being willing to feel everything. By being willing to accept the unacceptable.
The conversation of Grief, then, is one of prayer-and-response.
Grief says to me: “You will never love anyone the way you loved Rayya.”
And I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.”
Grief says: “She’s gone, and she’s never coming back.”
I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.”
Grief says: “You will never see her walk in the door again.”
I say: “I am willing.”
Grief says: “You will never have access to her wisdom again.”
I say: “I am willing.”
Grief says: “You will never hear that laugh again.”
I say: “I am willing.”
Grief says, “You will never smell her skin again.”
I get down on the floor on my fucking knees, and — and through my sheets of tears — I say, “I AM WILLING.”
I am beginning to understand that Grief is not the same thing as Depression. Depression is unwilling. Grief is a MOVEMENT — catastrophic and mighty — that you ALLOW to rock you and spin you. Depression is refusal to feel. Depression is a refusal to move, or to be moved. Depression is resistance, and resistance is futile.
I am not depressed, in the wake of Rayya’s death. I am DESTROYED, but I am not depressed — but that’s only because I am willing to be destroyed.
I will live on, because I am WILLING. I am willing to take this life on God’s terms, not mine. Love’s terms, not mine. Grief’s terms, not mine.
I am willing to surrender to the reality that I will never understand any of this. I am even willing to accept that I may not ever fully heal from the loss of Rayya.
Grief says: “You may never recover from this”
And I say: “I am willing.”
This is the job of the living — to be willing to bow down before EVERYTHING that is bigger than you. And nearly everything in this world is bigger than you. Let your willingness be the only big thing about you. […] »
I like the fact that she capitalizes emotions in this post. It makes me think of the Pixar movie Inside Out which tells the story of a little girl through autonomous characters representing the emotions in her head. This can help visualize emotions, a concept which is most of the time neglected and which contours are most of the time so very blurry.
To face anxiety, I was told to « just face it ». Easier said than done… How the f*** do I do that?? Does anyone have instructions to follow? A user manual? Anything? Anyone???
You must not argue with it (= fight) and you must not ignore it (= flee). Ok, so… what I am supposed to DO?? Nothing. You do nothing. Ok. And… huh… how do I DO « nothing »?
It took me a long time to understand how to do nothing (and I am not successful every time I try). This post helped a lot though. In fact, you have to go through your body first (meditation is of great help to get this notion). You have to locate where is your emotion physically. To feel it, like a cloud of an opaque misty fog, without trying to express it with words for now. Placing your hands where you feel it can also help. The physical emotion will fade eventually. Then let the thoughts linked to the emotion to merge. Listen to the words. No matter what they are, even if they are awful words. You just have to listen without acting on it. And accept what your emotion is saying. Just like what Elizabeth Gilbert does. If you are mad, let the madness say what it has to say. If you are sad, let the sadness talk to you.
What the emotion says does not force you to act on it, nor to take its words for absolute and undeniable truths. There is a difference between to accept something and to back something up. To accept is not backing up. To accept is simply to accept what is, right now, the reality, the situation. It does not mean we have to like any of it, make it last, act on it, obey or support it.
To accept is not being a victim of one’s thoughts or a situation. It is not surrendering by force. It is not being beaten up by an emotion and its orders. To accept is precisely to free oneself from an emotion which, if suppressed, will take over us, make us its slave, consciously or unconsciously, through the fight it will impose in our mind to ignore it or through the behaviors we will adopt in an insidious way.
Then, you have two choices:
- you can decide not to act following a wave of emotion. You can just let the emotion rock you whenever it wants and wait for this phenomenon to pass with time or accept it will never pass but not to suffer because of it once the emotion has been processed away.
- you can, mindfully, think about the feelings, the ideas which have emerged, and take a decision to follow the emotion or not. The only thing is not to hurt yourself or others.
To sum up: you have to feel the emotion physically, accept it physically without judging it or formulate it, then listen to what she has to say and accept its words without judging or acting on it, and finally, with all these elements in mind, decide what to do or not to do.
(Article in French here)