Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, Happiness, Mental health, Nature, Spirituality

How to Release the Grip of Grief and Sadness and Elbow Falls After the Flood

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On the weekend my husband, kids and I took a family friend out to see Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls.  It was a brilliant day out, filled with nature exploring and the joy inherent in watching people experience Kananaskis country for the first time.

With tired toddlers and growling stomachs, we decided to make one last stop at Elbow Falls before driving back into Calgary.

It is a powerful place for my husband and I.

This is where my firefighter husband recovered his first body.  As family cried, a helicopter pulled a body bag out of the frothing water below.

This is where I fell completely in love with the mountains, at the age of 10.

I was newly arrived in Canada. Elbow Falls is the first ‘mountains’ experience I had.  It is where my soul realized its LOVE for the mountains. I was obsessed with this spot. Every year for my birthday, my parents would ask me what I wanted and all I wanted to do was ‘be’ at Elbow Falls.  I just wanted to return there.  The forest.  The mountains.

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I can’t help but think, that nature offers us some pretty powerful experiences in the most unexpected moments.  Very often, to be in nature is to access our most pure form of ourselves.  Let me share with you a deeply personal experience and a ‘pivot’ in my own mindset.

We all know on some level that in nature, we depart from the churning thoughts of our day to day life.  Somewhere in nature, where we are swept up in simply being with the rich life around us, and using our bodies and senses, we quiet that helpful but irritating thing called the mind.

You see, we aren’t just lollipops… we are not stick bodies with giant lollipop heads that rule everything.

To be human is NOT just having a brain.  As a human you also own an emotional landscape, a physical landscape *and* that thinking landscape.  We move in and out of each domain all the time, and have our preferred ‘homes.’  Here’s a great diagram that explains it.  This is a model I use often with clients.

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So hold that model in your mind.  I’ll attempt to combine a nature experience with life coaching and personal story.

In 2013 there was a large flood.  Our city was underwater and our waterways were ravaged, even up in the mountains.

The great flood of 2013 changed the Elbow Falls of my childhood, which involved a large forested area with picnic tables and paths.  The river was adjacent to these lovely picnic sites and the falls were quite spectacular.

I hadn’t been back to Elbow Falls since the flood and I was quite floored to see how much the landscape had changed.  The picnic tables, forested paths of my youth were entirely swept away.  In there place was a huge flood plain strewn with rocks.

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Even the shape of the falls had completely changed.

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It was absolutely wild.  The only things that were similar were the large slabs of rock adjacent to the falls.  Even those had been pounded into a softer shape by the flood.

The forest I walked through as a child doesn’t exist anymore.

On Sunday, the reality in front of me was entirely different from the mists of my childhood memories.

Symbolically, that flood had washed away not only a forest but a piece of my childhood

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I couldn’t help but think how this has meaning in my life, in so many ways.  I wanted to touch on the insight this day had on GRIEF.

I used to spend a lot of time at Elbow Falls with my mum.  My mum is no longer in the physical dimension. She passed away during that great flood.

As I walked along the river with my baby, toward an old rock with special meaning, this hit me, I could feel emotion rising up within me.  It was coming. Oh shit.

You see, I used to deny myself emotion. I used to lock that shit up, push it back down and continue on my merry way. I learnt to do it from the environment I grew up in, the people around me. It was compounded by experiences were negative judgements and disapproval were laid on me if I showed emotion.  Hell, even society doesn’t want a crier, does it? Plus, our old primordial brain gets a bit stressed out and upset when we cry. It goes into fear and survival mode.  It screams at us:

NO! NOPE!  Distract.  Find pleasure.  BUFFER AGAINST THIS BAD FEELING (alcohol, food, whatever you like to use.)  Avoid this situation again (!)

I could feel it chattering.  I kept walking.

There was a very large slab of rock, upriver from the falls with special meaning. I was approaching it with a tidal wave rising inside of me. My mum and I used to sit on that rock.  From the age of 10 to 29 that rock has hosted a lot of memories.

I approached, heart in my throat.

It is still there, but everything around it is different. I clambered up and sat on the rock holding my baby, and my eyes began to prickle and sting.  I decided I couldn’t do backward counting anymore.  I can’t fake things anymore. I can’t deny my own emotions. I was just going to let go and go with it.

I haven’t had a grief burst in a long time.  I call them grief bursts because the sadness comes in like a cloud. It covers the sun and you can smell the rain coming.

The tears begin to flow, like a brief rainstorm.  But then, the cloud passes and the sun shines again.

Through much work, I have understood how to embrace grief and let it pass by me in this manner, like a quick rain shower, and move back into peace just as quickly. This took some deep work with a psychologist but it was well worth it. I recommend it to anyone who is still struggling with the long, pervasive grip of grief, to anyone who wants to just loosen its grip and get glimpses of sun.  Eventually you will live in beautiful sunny days with only the occasional rainstorm, and even then you’ll look up, hold your hand out and casually say “ah just a few drops, it will pass by quickly.”

I’ve learnt that emotions are like the weather. Ever-shifting, especially in Calgary (!) All of them are necessary, and a part of being human – but they do not control us.  They don’t have to control how we think, act, show up and live our lives. They are not permanent.

However, so many of us choose to make them permanent.  See the word I used there? CHOOSE.  We have a CHOICE.

Over the last few years I’ve CHOSEN to embrace grief as a passing weather event.  Even when I didn’t fully believe it, I chose to practice this approach with the faith that eventually something woud shift.  It did.

In 2018 I don’t deny myself grief and ironically, by opening my arms to it with loving kindness, it doesn’t return as often, or stay as long.

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Sitting on the rock, I thought about how I don’t fight life anymore.

I don’t avoid the hard and chase the easy anymore.

Pleasure must coexist with pain.  The only place things will be perfect, is in heaven, and to be honest, I don’t want to go to heaven yet, I have too much stuff to do here 🙂

Man did I cry my eyes out on that rock. I felt the feels. I felt my mums hand holding mine.  I cried for everything that had been washed away in that flood. I cried with the realization I am in a different place and time now, and life is always shifting and whatever else came up in that grief burst.

I cried as I felt the physical loss of my mum (though she was very much present right there in my heart that day.) . The last time I had sat on that rock was  with her, in the Autumn of 2012. We sat on that rock and pondered life.  Though we didn’t talk about dying. we did circle the topic by talking about having a purpose in life.  how a time stamp provides crystal clarity and purpose.  That she knew and had realized its about love and human connection and that all of us, ALL of us just want to be loved and accepted and appreciated and the best thing we can do is BE that loving, accepting, non judgemental person.

Gah.

ALL of that flowed through me like a little video loop in my minds eye.

That was hard.  But with great challenge comes great reward. 

Like a thunderstorm, a burst of emotion releases the pressure in our internal atmosphere and we return to normality

There is always a quiet place, where we feel at peace after big emotions.  if we can stop judging ourselves and let ourselves be with our emotions, we will just as quickly move back into peace.  We also have to practice noticing that peaceful place after an emotion burst. We can’t just become aware.  We have to practice it.

Driving back from Elbow Falls that afternoon, (my baby sleeping in the back after all that fresh mountain air) I was at peace.  When I got out of my car at the house 45 minutes later, I was not only peaceful, but I was back.

The sun was shining again, I was happy again.

Coaching helps us embrace emotions, and give them the room to flow through us, and out of us. We can gain this understanding and then practice it, and reflect on moments like the above with someone.  We can learn to shut down our brain and all of that irritating chatter and assessments that happen when we’re just trying to experience being human.  The brain and ego is not kind, and you know what, when I am crying, the last thing I need is a lack of kindness. I need loving empathy.  From myself.  Not judging from my ego.  So, you gain the ability to ignore that part.  Then, eventually, it gets the point and lets you do your emotional thing.

it is our job as a human to just be, to be with those emotions, to let them happen.

You can sit and read this blog, gain this coaching tool, but I encourage you to practice it.  When the next moment of grief or sadness arises, choose to embrace it with loving kindness.  Let it run its course.  Take the time to close down your thoughts and judgments around it.  Tell your own brain, “not now ego, it’s not about you. I’m going to experience this with love and kindness and NO judgement, so STFU.”

I invite you to do something different.  See what emerges.  If you do something different from what you’ve done before, I can guarantee you’ll get different results.

Einstein said it perfectly:

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Letting things happen on Sunday naturally, and then embracing a different way to go about things, really landed all of this home.

I cried on a rock at Elbow Falls and permanently changed.  I can’t go back now.

I can’t ‘unsee’ my new awareness.

Today I can officially declare, Grief doesn’t have a hold on me anymore.

I know it is simply a moving cloud in the sky of life.

Just like the sun must shine, the rain must fall.

But nothing is permanent.

The landsape of the Elbow Falls of my childhood was not permanent.

My mums life was not permanent.

I am not permanent.

My sadness on that rock was not permanent.

My way of seeing the world is not permanent.

Go with the flow.  Embrace that impermanence of everything.

This is a key teaching of Buddhism. Of life coaches. Of universal laws.

I just like to take these things and apply them and practice them in real life and then share what it’s like.

Know that we are always changing and evolving to a higher version of ourselves and this is a key practice to add to your toolkit on your ever-unfolding journey. 

I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

xo Carina

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