What’s this mess of feelings we’re feeling? Grief

I read a friend’s email and thought she was feeling down. I was feeling low myself. 

I popped in my headphones, headed out for a walk and phoned her. We both commiserated that we had the Lockdown Blues—from the grind of staying at home day after day, the hits to our businesses, and so on.

One reason she was sad was because, if not for the virus, she would have been on vacation in the sunny south. On top of that, she felt guilty about feeling sad about missing a vacation. “A lot of people have it way, way worse…”

I’m hearing and seeing a lot of this. People are hurting and they don’t even know what’s happening to them, and they feel bad about feeling bad. It’s a big mess of suffering. 

I’ve long enjoyed the Ten Percent Happier podcast, which largely focuses on meditation and related subjects, but this episode brought me some solace about what I was experiencing, and my friend as well.

A lot of us feel like we’re riding emotional roller coasters—feeling relatively fine one day, plunged into a funk the next; exploding into anger with only a slight provocation, or dissolving into tears without knowing why.

We don’t know what’s happening to us. We feel like something is wrong with us.

“What they are describing is grief,” grief expert David Kessler said on the podcast.

“That’s grief you’re feeling and we named it,” Kessler said.

He said naming it helps us realize we’re not crazy, and we can begin to understand what we’re feeling. And what we’re feeling is that “the world we were in two weeks ago is now unfortunately gone forever.”

Our culture doesn’t do grief well. We don’t understand it either.

We have something, and then we don’t. And we feel sad. It’s natural. And the process of letting that sadness work itself out is grieving.

When someone we love dies, that’s the deepest kind of grief. But we also feel grief  when our favourite bike is stolen, we move out of a house, we finish a project, or lose a job.

But in our culture, we don’t know what to do with sadness, or with most of our negative feelings.

Kessler said our society is one of the first in history that has “feelings about feelings.

“We’re sad, but we don’t think we should be sad. If we’re angry, we don’t feel that we have a right to be angry. We’re judging and commenting on our feelings, rather than just feeling them.

“We’ve become a society of half-felt emotions that we spend enormous amounts of energy suppressing.

“If we felt the sadness, it will pass through us. If we feel the anger it will pass through us,” said Kessler, who is explains the process of grieving during the lockdown in an article called That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief in the Harvard Business Review.

But we don’t let our feelings to pass. And then we make ourselves feel worse when we have feelings about our feelings.

I understood this better when Dan Harris, host of Ten Percent Happier, noted the Buddhist analogy of the “second arrow.”

The first arrow that my friend took was having her vacation cancelled. Then she felt guilty about feeling sad about her vacation.

“We insert (the second arrow) voluntarily,” Harris said. “Pain is mandatory. Suffering is optional.”

So what’s the best thing we can do with what’s going on for us during the lockdown?

Kessler said: “When we name it, we can find some control. We have to accept where we are to deal with it. We have to feel our feelings, and they will pass through us.”

And having grieved the past, we can begin to heal, move forward, and create a new future. 

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

Comments

  1. Tim, you shared a great concept I’ve been reading a lot about lately, and you’re bang on. Thanks for sharing.

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