I know how disappointed you feel because I feel it too, and so do
tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort.
This is painful and it will be for a long time.
–from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech
As the election results came in, I was watching one of the live late night shows, when a famous actor who was sitting in the guest chair began rubbing his belly. I noticed that I was doing the same. My stomach felt oddly like it had been filling with lead. The actor and I, along with fully half the country, were in shock. Despite our disbelieving brains, our bodies were already registering our sorrow, anger, and fear.
Had the election gone the other way, the country’s other half would have been feeling just the same. In fact—this was one of several post-election awakenings for me—my current alienation was how the other half had been feeling for the past eight years. Although empathy is high among the Great Mother’s virtues, I’m sorry to say I did not offer it then.
Putting politics aside: What do we do now with our pain? The desire to escape it is unavoidable, yet over the long run, this only makes pain stronger. To the Great-Mother-minded—strong emotions are opportunities. These are the jewels that when found, cut, and polished, can brighten the necklace of our emotional mastery. Where there is strong Shakti, there is energy—our energy. How do we want to shape and use it?
Ignored feelings distill into poisons that collect somewhere in the body. Abandoned feelings make us heavier, draining our energy until something else can release them. Then we’re puzzled and perhaps embarrassed that we reacted so strongly to some small thing. Let’s not miss this moment. These times give us compelling reasons to stay awake.
When the plane suddenly descends and the oxygen masks drop, mothers are advised to put their mask on first, before helping their child. This is a good image for us in the midst of strong emotion. We need to get our inner mother in gear. We need to rouse the impulse to take care of ourselves—alongside our helpless, flailing self. When we’re only the child, all we know is the plunging and gasping. So let’s say your inner mother is awake now. What wise remedies can she apply? My favorites are the following three. Learn them and you can take care of yourself anytime, anywhere.
- Ground: stabilize your system.
In trauma and tragedy, humans instinctively seek community. We comfort, commiserate with, and gain perspective from each other. We remind our shattered selves of who we are. We laugh together. Our spirits lift and we’re inspired to move forward. From an energetic perspective, community performs another important function. It helps to stabilize our agitated nervous systems. And that’s the first medicine we need. We need to ground the excited energy—the way a lightning rod collects potentially destructive electricity and drives it into the ground.
We’re often not aware of this when we reach out to other people. Yet—we feel more anchored after we connect. Family and friends can bring us back to earth. If we don’t have live humans to talk with or gather among, we can find community quite easily on social media. We can listen to our favorite commentators or read like-minded blogs. We can watch daytime chat shows. However we do it—these activities succeed when they serve to calm us down. This noticing is most important. It keeps us honest. Is what we’re doing benefiting our system or making it worse?
If community is not available or we feel too vulnerable for even that, we can lie with our backs on the ground. As a practice, this should be done for at least thirty minutes, preferably longer. It’s a way of allowing Gaia, the earth, to become your community. She’ll absorb the agitations that you need to drain. She’s got your back. Notice how deeply Gaia abides. Sink into her as though into sand or warm mud. Release everything. Gently weave your breath up and down your spine. You may notice a shift in mood before thirty minutes have elapsed, but don’t cheat yourself. Collapsing into the arms of Gaia is deeply nourishing. Once you feel complete, arise. Notice the difference in your system. Your newly grounded body will feel heavier, slower, more present, and more at peace.
Again, the noticing is important. This is how we build confidence in our internal mother. We discover she can bring us real relief. Being in a grounded body feels much safer than being in a disconnected one. The adrenals can relax.
- Revive your heart.
There’s an order to the remedies. You can’t do much energetically if you’re not in your body. This next step is just as important. You can’t comfort yourself if your heart is locked, collapsed, or frozen—common conditions when we’re distressed. Humans sense these energetic states—it’s in our language. After traumatic events, people say things like “I’ve lost heart,” “My heart is broken,” “I have a heavy heart,” “My heart is on the ground,” or even “I feel dead inside.”
As long as we’re still alive, these are temporary conditions. The heart is actually a muscle, so it doesn’t break. It can’t literally fall out of our bodies and hit the ground. Nor does it ever really abandon us. But when it feels like these things have happened, nature has installed in us a simple remedy. We can revive the heart with our breath. With breath alone, we can bring ourselves back into rhythm. This simple capacity is more valuable than the fanciest machine in any hospital.
Try it. The more refined your awareness of your actual heart beats, the more interesting this activity becomes. Some of us have a natural ability to sense our beating heart. Those who don’t can learn. But acquiring this sensitivity starts simply. Just send your breath into your chest. Not only does this bring oxygen, it brings prana, the vital life force that rides along the breath. Don’t push—rather, let your heart be soothed. Let it relax naturally into the space you’re creating. This is spiritual self-CPR.
The center of your chest will feel juicier once you’ve brought your heart back to life. Your breath will be freer. You’ll also feel more like yourself, more centered. Now your inner mother is ready for the third practice—meeting your pain.
- Breathe into the pain, in a way that allows it to move.
What should we do with our painful feelings? Quite simply: we need to feel them. This activity is the central practice of emotional mastery—yet without grounding or an open heart, it’s impossible to perform. Assuming we’re stabilized and soft enough to be receptive, we can get down to business. We leave our noisy thoughts behind and draw our attention below the neck, into the body, where the emotions spike, jitter, pool, freeze and flow. The Devas of emotion are alive with energy. We can sense this! Gifts of the Great Mother, feelings are the vibrational nectars designed to deter, fuel, or comfort us through life’s ups and downs. Each has its job to do and its own style of journeying. Sorrow is cleansing and renewing. Anger motivates and strengthens us. Fear alerts us to danger.
That there are five stages to grief is well known. Grief supposedly goes from denial to anger to bargaining to depression and finally to acceptance. However—these are just the stages that the mind goes through. They have nothing to do with the true journey of your feelings. Depression is never the signal that you’re nearly done with your emotional processing. Rather, it suggests you haven’t begun! Depression is a sign that your mind has exhausted itself and your unfelt feelings have grown viscous. They’re on their way to congealing into the heavy stones your resigned “acceptance” could be carrying into your future.
The true stages of grief are actually a secret—meaning, no one can tell you exactly how it will go for you. You have to meet your feelings in the same way all the ancient heroes have had to meet their angels and demons. The Devas are intelligent natural forces—like the wind, ocean, rivers, and streams—but the landscape they flow through is yours, carved by your thoughts and your past. How long their journey takes or what it looks like largely depends on what’s inside you.
Bring a small piece of your pain into awareness. As you did with your heart, send it breath. And be curious. Notice the location, size, color, texture, and density of your pain. Is it in your eyes? Your ovaries? Your heart? Is it contracted and silent? Or does it shiver and shout? Is it blue, red, green, or black? This is how we practice in the temple of the Great Mother. We grow attentive to the nuances of the energy, the holy Shakti.
Emotions are the spices which flavor the energetic soup that’s always cooking inside our body’s cauldron. Feelings are intense sensation-producers and are packed with medicine. They add color and drama to our lives. We might innately prefer some emotional spices to others, but on the way to mastery, we learn to taste and use them all–with discernment, but no judgments.
This third step is simple. It’s as basic as the activity of an unbiased tongue tasting peppers, honey, dirt, or mold. Yet it’s also so nuanced, we could discuss our encounters with these Devas for days without exhausting a fraction of their depth and mystery. No need to tell yourself scary stories on top of this work; the mind is not particularly helpful. Just breathe and let the feelings move, which is their nature. At some point, the taste, color, or density of your sensations will shift. The true sign that you’re ready for emotional acceptance is when you feel more alive, whole, and eager to move on.
Feeling all your feelings is the Great Mother’s work. In a patriarchal society which prefers to hide this precious Shakti, it’s actually subversive. It takes courage. Along the way, you may get ungrounded, your heart may freeze again, and your breath will get shallow. Often, these responses are leftover from childhood, when you probably got the message that this particular spice you’re tasting wasn’t appreciated by your tribe. Most of our reactions to feelings are learned. But now you know how to keep going forward. Be adventurous and kind to yourself. Keep checking in on your grieving. as you would a sick child home from school. Don’t be surprised if you discover that meeting yourself this way can actually be pleasurable.
Grief—when we take its journey properly—will lead us through sorrow to rebirth. Its reward is always new life. And that’s when we know our grieving is officially done. Timing is the trickiest element with this Deva–because whenever we surrender to her, all the ungrieved stones from our past wake up and beg for their release too. We may need hours, days, weeks, or more. Though the mind is impatient, don’t cheat yourself. We need you whole. The world has changed and we all have precious new work to do.
© 2016 by Dana Gerhardt
If you’re drawn to the work of the Great Mother Moon,
you may find delicious support in my monthly Moon Workshop, available here.
Painting by Claudia Fernety. See more of Claudia’s work at her website.