Updated: Oct 20, 2020
KT: Let’s talk about grief! What sparked my interest in having a conversation with you was a video you put out during the pandemic. You said, ‘if you haven’t done any grief work, it might be coming up for you now’. I wanted to talk to you because I’ve learned that grief isn't just about what we experience when somebody close to us dies. We can have grief over a loss of any kind, so it’s a timely topic!
MM: That’s exactly it. The etymology of the word grief is about sorrow, or ‘of burden’. It doesn’t specifically say it’s about death. My shamanic training brought me into a different intimacy around what grief could be, and I’ve found grief around a whole lot of things I didn’t expect!
Grief is a process that happens whenever change occurs in life. It’s obvious to recognize around death, but anytime change occurs there's likely to be some form of grief that comes up.
The classic example that most people can relate to is a break-up. A break-up is a grief process where you let go of the life you had with that person. Grief opens a space between where your hopes and ideas about your future has to change.
KT: So how do you know you’re grieving? What do you suggest people look out for to indicate grief is coming up? How do you identify it?
MM: The first thing is to be aware of unfamiliar emotions. If you feel those coming up ask yourself, has there been any change in my life?
KT: With covid everything’s changed!
MM: 100%. And on totally different levels for everyone. A big part of this is being aware of what could potentially be a loss. Even if you haven’t lost someone close to you, many of us have lost jobs, we are no longer around people, our routine has changed, our sense of community has changed; these are all massive changes that’ve happened. It’s guaranteed there is going to be loss and change of some kind, whether that’s on the micro, or macro-level.
I also recommend that people look out for what I call the ‘emotional ninjas’. It is this idea that when we don’t process emotions, we store those feelings in our body. Unprocessed emotions start building up and pretty soon you can stub your toe and can’t stop crying. Or somebody cuts you off in traffic and you lose your mind in a way that you would never expect. These moments are an opportunity for emotions to start to come forward. So if you are suddenly having these explosive emotional ninjas come out of nowhere that’s usually a good sign that grief is coming up.
Another fascinating clue about grief is that often lung issues will surface. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the lungs are attuned to grief and sadness.
I had my own experience of this. I developed chronic bronchitis, and I went to see a TCM practitioner. He asked me when it started, and explained how the lungs are connected to grief.
Initially I wasn’t buying the connection, but was open to exploring the idea. We backtracked the timeline and I realized the bronchitis started after a break-up in my life. It hadn’t been a hard break-up, I was pretty content to leave and ready for a new phase of my life, but I was open to seeing the connection to what my lungs were showing me.
What came up was the realization that during that relationship I had abandoned myself. I had stepped away from some of my core beliefs and I had compromised myself. As soon as I hit that nugget of realization, I experienced the ugly cry! Despite the years that had passed those feelings were still there, and I could feel the anchor between the physical body and the emotional expression of the experience come loose. From that point forward I never experienced bronchitis again!
The other thing to pay attention to is how well you’re sleeping. Sleeping can be affected really quickly when we're processing grief. I often see this amongst people in my practice who are experiencing ‘the 3 a.m. wake-ups’. In the Chinese tradition 3 a.m. is the time linked to the lungs, so it’s a common pattern for people going through grief to waking up during this time.
KT: It seems we often build-up these micro-griefs, don’t process them, and then we have other micro-griefs build-up until they become a massive expression of grief?
MM: Yes, and it can be huge! Yoga therapy teaches the multiple loss theory. It’s a concept that recognizes we all experience many different periods of grief, but we can only grieve to the extent that we have the capacity, ability, and time at that point in our lives to grieve.
Often with micro-grief we don’t recognize it as grief, and don’t give ourselves time to process this change.
For example, I lost a dog a few years ago. Recently a friend lost their dog, and I was just gutted by it! It opened a door for some of the grief that I hadn’t initially been able to fully process. As you grow and develop new skill sets, or form a new community around you, your capacity to grieve may expand, and that's a good thing!
Often people will have a what seems like a minor incident set off a whole cascade of grief, and as they transition through changes in life, moments of loss or disappointment may open a doorway to unprocessed grief.
KT: Can grief also happen if you are transitioning to something happy? Like getting married, having a new baby, landing your dream job? Is there grief associated with that kind of change too?
MM: Absolutely! That’s actually one of the biggest surprises I’ve found in life, which is any time I transition in life, even if it’s a happiness transition, the grief process shows up!
I see it as honouring life changing—what life was, and what it’s changing into.
KT: Ah! Change is hard. Why is it so hard?!
MM: Change is so hard! Happiness transitions can absolutely bring about a grief process, and there can be multiple nuances. Look at marriage for example. You're transitioning, you’re happy and excited, but your life as a single person is over. Micro-grief is likely going to come up. The prize is if you can learn to be with that grief, you can have completion with the old and move joyfully, and whole-heartedly into the new.
KT: Alright, so we all need a little support from time to time to get through these things! From the perspective of Ayurvedic medicine and your shamanic background, what assistance can the plant world have to offer us?
MM: They are an incredible support! Through my training I follow an animistic path, which means recognizing everything holds a soul and spirit including plants. Plants are an incredible source of wisdom, which are purely supportive because of their unique connection to the earth. My belief and part of why I started my line of Vedic Smudge Sprays is because there are specific roles, and wisdom provided by plants which are supportive of emotional processing, or cutting energetic ties.
I like the idea of finding wisdom and hacks that support us in everyday life, and the plant world as so much to offer in that capacity!
KT: Sometimes I feel like we are simply finding practical modern ways to use thousand-year-old plant wisdom!
MM: Absolutely! And don't forget the download of consciousness that can come with plant interactions can be an incredible experience in terms of navigating emotions, and processing energies. It can feel like a warm hug within you. I like the idea that with plants we can bring them in as allies in the form of smudges, blends, or teas, Each have a strength to provide comfort and support in really powerful ways.
KT: It's incredible to experience how we are designed to be in communication with each other.
MM: There’s amazing interactivity between you and the energy field of a plant.
I remember one of my teachers mentioning how interesting it is to notice which yards dandelions like to grow in. With the understanding of how beneficial dandelions can be for the liver and the emotions around the liver, now when you meet people with dandelions in their yard you can understand how that medicine came to them!
I recently read a study comparing plants growing in identical conditions with the exception that they different people taking care of them. When they later examined the constituent chemicals from the plants they discovered they differed based on the person taking care of them. You really can’t deny that there is something going on within the relational field between a person and a plant!
KT: I love that the science is now catching up to being able to help us understand in a really empirical way the intuitive wisdom that’s been around for so long. Also, I think this is why having a garden is so wonderful and good for you! Even if you just have one little pot!
MM: Yes, nurturing a little plant baby is so good for you!
KT: If people feel they have some stuff to work through whether it is grief, or just some crusty feelings, how do you suggest they go about developing a good support network of practitioners that can help?
MM: We all need a team, and different people have specific gifts, strengths and training that they pull from in order to offer assistance. One of the important thing I recommend to people when you’re considering seeing a new practitioner is to do an initial interview to see if you like them. It's basic, but you want to get a feel during the first session or conversation that you could easily work with this person. If you are going to work with a practitioner and you don’t feel comfortable with them, that’s not something for you to work through to then see the practitioner! That’s just more work!
We all have different ways of processing. Some people want to talk about it, some people want to feel it, some people just want to energetically feel it and let it go. It's not always about cognitively processing everything.
For instance my jaw was recently aching and I thought maybe I had a cavity. I felt called to see a reiki practitioner before going to my dentist. I lay down on the reiki practitioner's table, and tears started to fall out of my eyes—I didn’t cry, I didn’t sob—I just had tears falling. When I got up from the table, I went to see the dentist and he said, ‘Everything looks fine. I can’t test for anything else because you don’t have any pain anymore’. That was great! There was a release that happened that I didn’t have to identify, and I felt better!
So absolutely, be conscious of grief and aware of your emotions, but remember there are lots of ways we can start to process and heal.
Mandi Mack offers Eastern therapy, Traditional Thai massage, Ayurveda Treatments, Thai Cupping, Gua shaw, Shamanism, Chakra balancing and Massage. You can learn more about her, and her amazing line of Vedic Smudge Sprays here
In Part Two I get to dive into Mandi's toolbox of tips and techniques that she shares with clients about moving through the emotions of grief, building emotional resiliency, and a simple ceremony for healing heartbreak.
See our newest Elixirs for Life self-care kit designed specifically to support anyone going through grief. It's full of our most loving, supportive and nurturing products yet.
If you liked this article, you'll love our newsletter! Sign up and get all of our best content delivered monthly to your inbox! Sign up here!
***All of the information we share is simply for your own general information. If you feel you are struggling with grief, or other hard emotions there are many wonderful healthcare professionals who are qualified to help. Please reach out to one of them—you deserve the best professional help available.***