By: Stephen Levine
Posted: May 16, 2013
WORKING WITH/ON A GRIEF JOURNAL
Anna said, “I went to the place where my son drowned and I stood with a friend. And later we were some place and she said, "Come on. I'll buy you a journal and you can write." And I said no. I started crying. I said I can't write. I've never been able to write in a journal before. And then, at some point last winter, when he had been dead, you know, six months or so, I began to write. And it became kind of like automatic writing. It just came out.”
Sometimes we write as a means of opening the conduit between the mind and the heart. Writing what we feeling while we are feeling it as a means of inviting, sometimes the ghost of ourselves out of the shadows, open to unexpected insight and spontaneous guidance from our “still small voice within”.
Maybe it's time to keep a grief journal. When the mind addresses the heart, when fear appeals for mercy, in the expression of our sorrow and doubt the words carry us beyond time. Past and future in this single moment. Turning that page ten years from now that same healing awaits. And what comes into view as we reread our moments is a sense of process, that all these feeling have arisen before, and are on each occasion welcomed with some less difficulty.
Less lost in their content on rereading we see these afflictive thoughts more as part of a process. Anger as blocked desire. Fear as loss of control. Doubt as agitated distrust. They arise all by themselves. States of mind arise quite uninvited. They follow the leader.
We know a number of people who keep track of even more specific states than just the broad band of suffering we call grief. They keep anger journals. They are so willing to heal that they'll try anything. Even foolish, even irrational, what ever the flow they just keep writing.
Another insight arises into the hallucinatory quality of sadness which insists we've never been this sad before is discovered to be a hollow deception. When we look at page ninety-three, at page forty-one, at page six, there's noticed a certain quality to these states of mind that tends to misleads us. We have been this way before.
Such afflictive states of mind are constantly giving us false information about what to do with them, “ push me away, run for your life!!!” But if we take their advice these states will only get stronger. Look how strong they have already become by just following that strategy!
If we think it's never going to go away, “I've got to get rid of it”. That's just the natural urgency that keeps us stuck. In a way grief lasts a life time but its up to us whether we close around that pain and it diminishes our life or we open it to including not just our pain but the pain we share with all sentient beings. A life lived huddled in the corner or a life exposed to love and healing.
A Grief Journal is a tool to find now our way through, and a compass on rereading, to direct us past pitfalls later. We know the terrain a bit better. A bit less liable to get lost.
Noting it is not just our acquired personal mind that causes all this suffering but something in the given nature of mind itself. Some quite involuntary negative attachment to pain which in trying to push it away gets mired in it. An unfortunately natural part of our case of mistaken identity we call ego. A part of us which, unless more fully explored, finds in the relatively superficial, though excessively painful, layers of thought and emotion little more than itself. It has long employed this pain to make itself feel real. It’s quite a predicament but it is the work we all need do to be free. It is what the Buddha called “ the work to be done”.
The illusion that our sorrow will be unending no longer misguides us. *****