“Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing and regrouping.” — Julia Cameron
I want to say something about the shape of grief. Grief is not linear. It’s not a rectangle, either. It doesn’t behave itself and stay within a neat box of “stages.” You don’t go “through” it like passing through another country on your way home, never to return. I hear so many of my clients exclaim, “Oh no, I thought I was done with this,” when they are experiencing a grief trigger. This is especially daunting when it happens several years after their loss, just when they think they are emotionally in the clear and the crying is behind them.
The reality is, when you are grieving, you can feel like you are going through the same feelings over and over again. It can be so discouraging and frightening to feel like you are in an endless loop of pain and sorrow.
There’s another way to look at grief that I hope you will find helpful…
I see the process of grieving as a spiral. You can move along the spiral, making great progress, feeling better in general, then you hit another wave of sadness, yearning, anger, etc. It may feel exactly like the last time you felt this way — and if you just allow yourself to feel your feelings, express them, and release them, you will find that their intensity and duration are lessened with each step along the way, or with each turn of the spiral.
The symbol of the spiral has spiritual meanings in many cultures. Spirals are found in ancient artwork going back to the Neolithic age. Many Celtic artifacts are decorated with spiral imagery and the spiral is seen in nature (sea shells, plants, rams’ horns, tornadoes, etc.). Spiral galaxies give a cosmic meaning to this symbol. The spiral represents moving along a path of outer consciousness (the material, physical world) towards the inner realm of the soul. Walking a spiral labyrinth is a practice still being carried out today of calming and focalizing the mind to achieve greater peace and, arriving at the center of the spiral, to reach a receptive inner state for receiving spiritual guidance.
The spiral is attributed the following meanings: balance, progress, life cycles, surrender, change, initiation, centering, movement, expansion, growth, evolution, awareness, connection to Spirit, taking a journey, and self-development. Spirals represent a person coming back to the same point in their life, but with new awareness, greater understanding, and increased capacity to deal effectively with their situation. I see that this is a very valid and empowering way of relating to the process of grieving. Grief can be viewed as a path of moving forward, passing in and out of the feelings of hope and hopelessness, then regrouping to stabilize yourself in order to move forward again into positive territory.
Making the inner and outer adjustments to your losses, adapting to changes in your world-view, your relationships, your health and well-being, your spiritual beliefs…these are the tasks that grief thrusts upon you. Spiraling in to your center and finding your sense of self is also a big part of this process.
It is a journey of facing pain, turning away to escape the pain, and facing it again that inevitably moves you inward and upwards along the spiral to the center of your beingness.
This is where your strength lies.
How does time play into the equation? By the end of two years, most people are able to regard their grief as a growth-promoting experience. At this point, provided the most painful elements of their wounds have begun to heal, their self-images are primarily positive. The most crucial method of healing in the acute phase (the outer part of the spiral) is feeling, expressing, and releasing your feelings. Emotional release deals directly with the inner and outer turmoil in your life through catharsis. Verbal or written expression requires transformation of feelings into words or thoughts, a process similar to “standing outside” the experience and creating some distance and perspective.
The healing process seems to accelerate once you have achieved sufficient altitude and insulation from your pain, gained a stable sense of who you truly are, have defined new goals and direction in your life, and taken at least some action to realize these goals. At this point, most people are able to reflect on their accomplishments and recognize that their lives have transformed. During the earliest and most acutely painful periods, you are mostly busy utilizing all your resources simply to keep your head, and your heart, above water.
How you relate to yourself when you are grieving makes all the difference as to whether you will spiral down or spiral up.
Judging yourself, being hard on yourself, resisting yourself, this leads to the doom loop or downward spiral. It can leave you feeling stuck and anxious. Being gentle with yourself, giving yourself love and compassion, tenderness and patience will serve to lift you up. Accepting yourself and your feelings is the first and most important step in walking the spiral of healing and growth
My main message to you is this — you may be experiencing loss and grief, but it is not WHO you are.
Keep turning inward along the spiral of grief until you find yourself at the center of your Soul.