Walking Through Grief and Loss in the New Year 

By Karen V. Johnson, author of Living Grieving: Using Energy Medicine to Alchemize Grief and Loss

Grief and loss sometimes hit us with tsunami size force.  Especially after the holidays which either are filled with activities and connection or filled with loneliness and despair.  Either way, January is a long month, thirty-one days that may seem cold and endless.  And then along comes February, a month dedicated to love and lovers that can intensify feelings of aloneness and loneliness and just plain sadness.  

The temptation is to try and avoid those uncomfortable feelings at any cost and find creative ways to numb out by alcohol, drugs, sex, binge eating or binge watching tv.  We all have our own ways to avoid reality.  My drug of choice has always been binge reading, hiding behind a book and borrowing an alternative reality created by the author and the characters that are so different from my own.  

There is merit to be found in creatively finding ways to just get though long days and nights,  putting on a brave face and plodding along one foot in front of the other.  But as so well put by Sigmund Freud – ““When we neglect unexpressed emotions, they will come forth in uglier ways.”  The question then becomes how to tend to our unexpressed emotions rather than neglect them.  What would that look like and how can I make that happen for myself.  

One thing for sure, we can’t tend to our emotions unless we allow ourselves to see them and feel them.  What if you decided to spend just 10 minutes a day sitting with uncomfortable emotions of pain, shame, guilt, hopeless, despair, sadness and any others you can find and name.  

Getting to the root of all these emotions is a process of naming them, claiming them and releasing them to a fire.  Naming is especially important for the ones we have buried deep – the ones we tell ourselves we are alright with.  Maybe it’s a loss of a partnership, a friendship, a job, a business.  Maybe it’s the death of a loved one.  Sometimes it’s a loss or a death that occurred long ago that still hurts.  Sometimes it’s losses that we never really allowed ourselves to feel because someone told us, “why are you making such a big deal over that.”  So we buried our feelings in a deep pit in our heart along with all the others we buried.

This pit of buried emotions contains energy that still lives inside us, reminding us of how much we have endured.  Every year this pit seems to grow in size and we have more and more hidden away.  But what if instead of continually adding to this growing pit, what if instead we allowed ourselves to sit with our emotions and allow yourself to look at each hurt and wound and instead of burying it, claim in.  Instead of saying “I’m over this” sit with how you really feel maybe “this is not alright, not alright at all” or “this really still hurts” or “I still really miss this person.”  Experience how it feels to claim these feelings and to name them.   

The next step is to release them. Begin by finding somewhere you can sit alone in stillness, with a notebook, pen or pencil, candle and pie pan beside you.  Allow yourself this alone time when you have nowhere to go and nothing to do.  As you sit, concentrate on your inbreath and your outbreath.  When we breathe, we empty our lungs of old stale air so that fresh new air can come in.  Our breath is a metaphor for the process of tending to our unexpressed emotions.  We are in the process of breathing out old stale ways of being so that new ones have space to live inside us.

In solitude we can hear the voices inside ourselves that grow faint and are drowned out by the noise and busyness of our daily lives and by the presence of other people.  Stay still until you are in a place of knowing that what you are hearing is the subtle voice of your spirit.  Stay until the doors and walls you have erected around your broken heart are open.  Once you feel ready, write down these emotions on small pieces of paper, light your candle and (carefully) burn them, with the intent to release these emotions, allowing the ashes to collect in the pie pan.

In shamanic mythology, fire is a path of rapid transformation so by burning your answers you allow rapid transformation into your life.  There’s no need to worry that someone might find your answers because you will be burning them.  This will allow you to be completely and radically honest in your answers because no one will see them but you.  

You can also burn the papers outside in a fire or float them in water.  

By sitting in silence and getting in touch with your emotions and taking them to fire with the intention to release them you are engaging in ceremony.  Ceremony allows us to uplevel from our reptilian brain, the everyday brain of the fighting and feeding then past the mammalian brain of our wild emotions to our neocortex, where we get in touch with our soul’s longings.  We understand how the neocortex works because we have all experienced entering a church or temple, or standing in nature, and sensing the stillness.  At that moment we become quiet and enter sacred space and time.  This is the place of praying and having prayers answered.  This is the level of the soul where things release with the lightness of a feather.   

By taking time to tend to your uncomfortable, painful, and long buried emotions you can begin the process of healing your spirit and returning to joy.