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What is Conscious Grieving?

Most people think grief is something to be endured or fixed.  We attend support groups, for example, to get grief to go away. We stay busy to push the feelings aside. When friends say, “Maybe it’s time to move on,” we are outraged. “How could anyone impose a timetable on my grief?” But at the same time, we wonder the same thing, “Shouldn’t I be doing better by now? How do I heal from this grief?”

I seek to rearrange our relationship with grief. Instead of tolerating it, how can we embrace grief and its role in healing from loss? I invite you to grieve consciously, to replace society’s invitation to “move on” with your heart’s call to “move in.”  This shift in understanding allows us to know deeper places within ourselves and, hopefully, to experience deeper healing.

Conscious grieving is a creative and sacred process.  This approach invites us to step into grief intentionally and mindfully. With this awareness, grieving becomes a way in, not a way out.

Kathryn decided to stay with her feelings and find ways to express them. At first, she made collages with magazine pictures and words. Once a week, she planned a quiet afternoon to herself.  Piles of magazines, scissors and glue sticks surrounded her at the table. The early morning stillness had taught her to slow down and listen, so that’s how she began. The color and form she chose in collage-work included reminders of Bill but usually revealed more of herself.

Introspection and Growth

She laughed when images appeared that were the perfect choice, reminding her of secret dreams from long ago. Kathryn found freedom in this practice and realized her grief was about her, not just about her brother, Bill. His absence had a huge impact on her life, yes. The sadness could overwhelm her still. But at the same time, she began trusting these moments of introspection and growth.

C.S. Lewis explained “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape…not every bend does. Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago.”

Being Conscious in the Land of Loss

It is up to each of us, individually, to travel into that new landscape. If we resist the fullness of this journey, we might never see what lies ahead. If we avoid experimenting in our healing, we may depend on the patterns of the past that keep us going in circles. As an alternative approach, conscious grieving leads us through the Land of Loss. Deep within, we may find our creative side, get to know our passion for social justice, or discover a renewed connection to the Divine.

In the midst of this vision for healing, let us remember: the adoption of conscious grieving does not eliminate sadness. Our hearts break when someone we love dies, and we will feel sadness. Conscious grieving is not about choosing a theory that eliminates the reality of loss. Instead, conscious grieving invites us to allow both sadness and hope in our time of mourning, to open our hearts to both gratitude and emptiness in our grief.

Lisa Irish, author: for current programs, retreats and regular posts.

Excerpted from Grieving – the Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of Loss, Skylight Paths Publishing, an imprint of Turner Publishing Company, Nashville, TN, 2018

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Lisa Irish

Lisa Irish, MEd, MA, BCC incorporates her experience in chaplaincy, spiritual direction and her own journey to guide the way in the Land of Loss. As former bereavement coordinator for Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hospital of St Raphael, she ministered to individuals, groups and community organizations. Of her book, Grieving – the Sacred Art: Hope in the Land of the Loss, Fr. Richard Rohr says….”the roadmap is wise, but sensitive – grounded in hope – and reminds us to rest in God’s healing love.” Lisa shares her understanding of grief, healing and hope through rich retreat programs and in regular messages found at "Grieving with a Grateful Heart," Abbey Press. "Finding Healing in Times of Grief and Loss" (contributing author) Abbey Press "Grief - the Sacred Art," Skylight Paths Publishing in 2018.

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