What is grief?
“Freedom is a power within
Expressing Desire to Action.
Not for the Faint-Hearted,
It is a strength that forms and flows from life itself.
Elemental truth without which we remain
in a maze of fear and limitations
Enchained to Death.”
Marvin R. Rubin
When I asked my father to write his thoughts on freedom, he unhesitatingly wrote the above. I chose to elaborate on this theme of freedom as an inner power that only we can imprison by our fears of change and death. To deny death is to impose limitations on our life and our culture, creating “reality” based on short-term vision and immediate gratification which can leave us spiritually bankrupt. The pioneering work of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the field of death and dying, and Dr. Raymond Moody with his transformation research in near-death experiences (NDE) have profoundly affected people in confronting their fears of death and increased their hopes for survival of consciousness.
Close encounters with death and NDE may awaken us deeply to our spiritual life purpose and to an appreciation for loving unconditionally. In doing so, we accept the impermanence of all physical life. And in turn, life becomes more precious. This timeless awareness can set us free from the limitations of the past. It can speed up our desires into acts of self-healing and compassionate service for the “greater good” of others and the planet. Empathy, compassion and love form a resonance between living things, making it possible for the mind to transcend the limits of the body, time and space, according to Dr. Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Healing Words.
For those of us who have not had such stark awakenings, we can still learn from weathering losses and mini-deaths that force us to let go of who or what we are attached to. Suffering often accompanies loss of relationship, one’s health, or a job or the death of a loved one. Similar to physical death, the ordinary mind disintegrates through this suffering; all that we have identified with ceases to exist. We are alone with our emptiness and this freedom is initially so foreign to us that we resist, trying to cling to the past, out of fear. It is helpful at such times to have what Richard Moss, M.D., author of The Black Butterfly, describes as an “unobstructed relationship” with self or another in which to “embrace the unknowable and pass through the doors of our (individual and collective) aloneness”.
As a psychotherapist working with thousands of people grieving death, I have seen the effects of devastation on the human being. Bodies record the shock. Minds relentlessly churn and rework the past again and again, searching for reason. Hearts cry silently or out loud. Yet, I have also seen the creative power of the spirit within; the natural transformative potential which, like a bud. in winter, awaits patiently to awaken to its purpose, coaxed to life from death. Or it may just as easily come from an impetuous quickening that propels us to radical aliveness bom from our undoing and humility.
Here we realize the freedom inherent in the elemental truths of the universe. From the subatomic world, forms dance in and out of existence, fearlessly. Change is forever creating life from death and vice-versa. Our freedom does not come from outside us. It lies within. It is our soul calling forth a revisioning beyond the personal. It is reverence for what is sacred.
Sheryle R. Baker, M.A., LMHC
Over the past decade, I have received over approximately 100 hours of professional training and have worked with numerous clients using a therapeutic method called EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing). I have witnessed hundreds of dramatic healing effects on client’s behavior, emotions and changes in perception, related to their trauma as it impacts their lives. However, it was not until I had a life threatening injury, where my neck was broken in a car accident that I really internalized the benefits of the EMDR process. During the first month while I was still in terrible pain and shock, the strongest symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress that I suffered were specific dizziness and swerving motions every time I thought of our Jeep flipping over or while watching Jeep Cherokee commercials on TV. In place of any emotional feelings, these reactions randomly intruded on my daily thoughts and images. Carol Crow, a therapist friend offered to do some EMDR sessions at my home. At the end of the second session I was no longer hovering over or stuck in the images previous to, during, and after the crash. The mental recycling that kept me imprisoned to the scene altered, allowing the stored emotional trauma and sensations to move through my nervous system and be digested. The relief I felt was immeasurable. Yet, the greatest gift of healing was the total absence of the swerving motion when I recalled the accident or saw TV commercials. The changes were dramatic. I could begin to let go of feeling “broken in pieces” and return to my body’s need for inner healing. One year later, I returned to the physical scene of my accident in Utah, and lay to rest the remaining pain that was left inside me and on the earth.
What I’ve described is similar to the kinds of traumatic events that threaten one’s very core and overwhelm ordinary coping defenses, resulting in intense fear, helplessness and loss of control. Trauma is timeless. The event could be recent or years ago. The reactions of PTSD occur in two very different behaviors. In the first response, the person cannot separate or get out of the trauma, reliving the original event through nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and obsessive thinking. In the second, the person cannot allow the event in, instead choosing to avoid, by staying busy, numbing out or substance abuse.
In either case, physical symptoms can include insomnia, panic attacks, heart palpitations and hyperarousal, the tendency to be easily startled by any reminder triggering the trauma, (e.g. the sound of an ambulance siren or other sound, sights, smells, or feelings).
According to Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., originator of the EMDR process, research findings show that when someone is negatively affected by trauma, information is stored in the motoric (body systems) memory, rather than narrative (verbal) memory. The negative emotions and physical sensations of the original event are locked inside the nervous systems, producing intense feedback reactions and symptoms.
EMDR has dramatically helped to accelerate the healing process as it applies to grief, when a person gets stuck in the images, feelings and interpretations about the death or dying scenes, whether real or imagined; sometimes, the survivor was not physically present and had to rely on second hand information regarding their loved one’s death.
As a therapist, I explore with the client their most disturbing images, beliefs, thoughts, sensations and emotions. After this assessment, EMDR protocol is followed. The client is then introduced to the process of bi-lateral stimulation through a variety of ways: eye scanning, auditory sounds, or kinesthetic gentle tapping motions, designed to help move through and release conditioned responses to trauma.