We have more of our conversation with my favourite shaman/healer/and all-around wise woman, Mandi Mack. I get to dive into her toolbox of tips and techniques she shares with clients about moving through the emotions of grief (yup, it's a universal experience right now), building emotional resiliency, and simple but powerful ceremonies for getting through grief.
If you missed Part One, where we talk about emotional ninjas—yes, ninjas!—you can catch up on all of the fun here.
KT: I’m learning that we can’t avoid grief. It happens in big ways, like when we lose a
loved one, but it also happens on the micro-level, what you call micro-griefs, any time
something in life changes.
MM: Yes, grief is one of those universal experiences of life. In North America we don’t
really talk much about grief, especially around death, we tell people to take a week off,
good luck, figure it out. When I’ve experienced the death of a loved one, often in those
first seven days, I’m in a phase of numbness. I don’t have any emotion. You can see
how easily that ends in a spiral pattern of unprocessed grief. Grief that now starts to
come up unexpectedly around an anniversary, or a smell, or you hear a song. If we
aren’t connected to our own process or emotions, now we’re suddenly feeling grumpy
before realizing what’s been triggered.
It can be a hard process to navigate, especially when we don’t have a bigger
conversation around grief and death, to then start the smaller conversations around
micro, or day to day griefs like a loss of identity because you’re no longer at work, or
some other life situation has changed.
KT: It feels easier to identify with being sad about something in life rather than to
recognize it as grief. Do you think there’s an aspect of shame around grief?
MM: Well, I think that by saying sad we simplify it. It’s an emotion to be sad, but grief is
a lot more complex, and there are a lot of layers to grief, so it can be overwhelming just
to think about it or process.
KT: I had a teacher once that told me, ultimately what brings you out of grief is your
spirit. You can’t think your way through it. You can’t reason your way through it. There is
no set process or timeline for feeling better, but your spirit will see you through it.
MM: I agree 100%. It’s not something that follows a checklist and a protocol because
we go through so many different emotions with grief. If you can give yourself the space,
and gather the resources to be with grief, it will teach you. It's a guide that will
looks differently with each grief and for each person. Through the intimate experience of getting to know your spirit, different things will come up, and different rituals will come up.
KT: Are there any practices, or ceremonies you recommend to help move through the grief process?
MM: Absolutely, the first simple one is the crying ritual! Number one is give yourself
permission to cry.
KT: Or not!
MM: Exactly, don’t judge yourself if you can’t cry! 100% it’s totally fine! There are so
many things going on that shame is the worst thing that you can do, so be exactly
where you are, and don’t feel like you need to explain it. Allow yourself to be. Now, if you do feel some sadness bubbling up and you’re noticing that you're tamping it down, and you need to cry, I recommend listen to some sad songs, or sad movies. They can help to break the surface of the emotions, which is cool because often we need to be given permission to cry. I also recommend shower crying, and car crying! Its great because when you’re alone in your car, you’re in this safe contained space and so you can just go ahead and have a good ugly cry. Now, if its really intense, please pull over if you’re driving—make sure you’re staying safe!
Another practice I recommend is to set up a little altar in a corner of your home. It’s a specific place in your home that you set up to grieve. This gives you permission and more importantly, a container for grief. To create your own, find a piece of black cloth, a bowl, and two white candles, which you’ll set up in a specific space in your home. Add salt and water to the bowl. The salt serves to cut energetic cords and absorbs any emotions you want to let go. Lighting the candles brings in the transmuting energy of element of fire.
I recommend giving yourself a set period of time to sit with this altar. I suggest seven
minutes. There’s some interesting research that says we can only feel one emotion for
seven minutes, so if you really focus on just that one emotion, without getting distracted
by other feelings that might be coming up, you can track that feeling through your body
and allow it to move quickly through you.When you have an altar, you have a space where you can go for seven minutes a day and just sit. It’s interesting because often we really just need that permission as a first step, so when we set-up something intentional we have permission and a container that can be really healing.
KT: So really with any type of transition or change in life is when you want to be able to
use these tools to take care of yourself.
KT: It feels like emotional resiliency is a big part of what helps us move through grief?
How can we cultivate more emotional resilience?
MM: When we talk about emotional resilience, I automatically start thinking about the
nervous system.The first step is to regulate the nervous system. We have so many things that put us in a hyper-stimulated state, so that we don’t even feel safe to be with our emotions. How do we land safety within the body and what does that look
One of the first ways we learn how to become regulated when we're young is through our parents. It's the idea that we co-regulate; when we come into contact with someone who has a regulated nervous system it will give us the energetic ability to come into balance too. What I’ve seen in my practice is that we are so accustomed to being in an aroused state that we don’t even know that we are impacting those around us.
Breathing exercises can be really wonderful for helping to calm the nervous system. I
have a one particular technique that I coach clients through and it’s called a vagus
nerve breath. The idea is that it mimics a calming breath after a flight or flight response.
You can imagine that if we were back in our cavewoman days, and were running away
from a sabre tooth tiger your breath would be quick and shallow in your chest. When we
get away from the tiger, the first thing we would do is take a nice deep belly breath to
help calm down the nervous system. Inside your you have a nerve, called the vagus nerve, that goes thorough the diaphragm in the belly. When you expand and contract that nerve we are stimulating that vagus nerve to let it know we are safe, and we can relax. Here’s how it works: breathe really deeply into your belly, then exhale out of your mouth. When you try this breath, there’s great potential for the nervous system to start relaxing, and you can begin to land safety in your body, which is a great starting place for emotional resiliency.
When you know that you can come back to that place, you have the confidence to dive
in a little bit more into the process you’re going through; maybe put your toe into the
water of the sadness you’re experiencing knowing that you have this breathe that can
bring you back to a place of calm.
Mandi Mack offers Eastern therapy, Traditional Thai massage, Ayurveda Treatments, Thai Cupping, Gua shaw, Shamanism, Chakra balancing and Massage. And check out her beautiful line of handcrafted Vedic Smudge Sprays, for creating and simplifying your personal ceremonies and connective practices.
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.
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***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.***