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May 23, 2018

Assimilation and Integration of Grief | Tim VanDerKamp

When people approach me about grief, what they usually want me to do is to help them “get over it.” This request makes sense to me, given our society’s approach to everything; where being “stoic” in the midst of struggle is seen as “strong” and “struggling” with your struggle is viewed as weak. Unfortunately, “getting over it,” isn’t possible. I have had to look into a lot of disappointed eyes when I explain this to people. There is no, “getting over it.” I personally have never, “gotten over it” and I have never met one single person who claims that they have, “gotten over it.” But if you happen to be reading this, and were hoping for a plan to help you get over your own grief, don’t worry – I do have an alternative to offer you.

Before I move into that though, let me first ask you a question from one of my seminars on Death and Dying, “What do you think grief is a function of?” Where does grief come from? Is grief an expression of weakness? Is it an expression of anger? Is grief an expression of jealousy? Is grief an expression of out of control emotions? No, it isn’t any of these. Grief is an expression of love. We grieve, because we love. So if grief is an expression of love, why would I want to help someone “get over” love? If you could “get over” love, what kind of love would that be? So you can’t get over your grief – nor are you meant to. Love is incredibly powerful, and when we sense separation from that connection, if effects every area of our life. If you are grieving, it is because you loved, simple as that.

However, just because you can’t get over grief, does not mean there is nothing you need to do. Rather than thinking about getting over grief, or getting over the experience that brought grief into your life, instead consider the possibility of:
Assimilation and Integration

Rather than getting over it, our grief needs to be assimilated, and integrated into our existence. This will take some action on your part. If you’ve heard the old phrase, “time heals all wounds,” then you’ve been exposed to one of the greatest lies ever told. If you think time heals all wounds, perhaps you’ve never seen an abscess. Not only does time NOT heal all wounds, if too much time goes by, it can destroy your life, and even be fatal. Time heals nothing. Time compounds (multiplies) the effects of the actions you’ve taken (or not taken). Time can be a great ally, or your worst enemy, depending on you and your actions, or lack of action. But time by itself, heals nothing.

To assimilate, and integrate grief it needs to be:

#1: digested

#2: metabolized

#3: distributed throughout your life

After these are done, you have to take some time to adjust to the changes that come into your life as the result. You might find you no longer like some things. Things that used to seem so important to you, may lose their appeal. You might take up a new hobby, or quit an old one. You might change jobs. You might change where you live. You never know what all might change once assimilation happens. Grief impacts everyone differently once it becomes part of you.

All of this takes effort, and it takes time. Think about grief like a meal you’ve eaten. The food must be broken down, metabolized, some of it absorbed, some of it passed on, some converted to fuel, some goes to create hormones, some goes to your eyes, your brain, your hair, your blood sugar, and some is stored as fat, which you have to adjust to carrying around. That meal affects your mood, your energy, your sleep, your weight, daily activities, and even your clothes that go on your body. You think this doesn’t sound like grief?

Do people gain or lose weight when they are grieving? Does grief affect sleep? Does grief affect your energy level? Does grief have an effect on your body’s ability to ward off infection? Does it impact your clothes, where you work, where you live, what you choose to decorate your house with? Grief impacts ALL of these things. Every area of your life is impacted by major events like death, serious illness, or loss of a relationship (and the grief that always accompanies it).

So our grief needs to be metabolized, and distributed throughout our life, and then we have to adjust to those changes. And just like digesting food, there are things you can do to help optimize the process, and there are things you can do that will slow it down (or stop it in some cases). So let’s talk about how to metabolize, absorb, and assimilate grief into our lives.

I will start in reverse. What is it like to have grief, and/or the event that triggered it, integrated in your life? Once grief is fully assimilated, and integrated into your life, it becomes like a living, breathing, tattoo that is imprinted on every level of your being. Almost like hieroglyphics, your grief tells a story – the story of you. It is forever recorded in your bones, your muscles, your tissues, your blood, your cells, your nervous system, and your mind. It never goes away. It is always there, and it forever informs your thinking, and how you make decisions. You are never the same on any level once grief becomes integrated. Everything changes. One of my first teachers used to tell me, “once a cucumber becomes a pickle, it is never a cucumber again.” The mind, body, and spirit are just like this once grief is fully assimilated; they are never the same again.

Unfortunately, I rarely meet people who have fully assimilated, and integrated grief into their being. Most of the time, either grief has never been allowed to begin the process of assimilation, or it got stuck along the way. Lots of people believe that time is the healer of all wounds, and believe that if they just wait long enough, it will move through. This is the philosophy of the stoic. The one who believes they are strong, and that the event wasn’t that bad, and believes the grief will pass if ignored long enough. This is unfortunately never the case. Usually, sooner of later, the weight of carrying around the unresolved grief crushes these people, and forces them to begin the work at some later date, which is almost never optimal, and is always intrusive.

The first thing I want you to know about beginning the process of full assimilation of grief into your being, is that you can’t “speed” it up. There are no shortcuts, or “life hacks” that are going to let you bypass your own individual experience. Grief will not adhere to anyone’s timeline but its own. So you can’t speed this up; however, you can certainly make sure you aren’t slowing things down, or blocking it all together. That is to say, lets not make this take any longer than necessary by getting in our own way. It’s not like grieving is fun. So let’s at least make sure we give ourselves the least amount of it we can.

To get started, the very first thing I suggest you do (and as a yoga teacher this often surprises people) is to begin therapeutic counseling straight away. Don’t wait even a day. Start visiting with a qualified grief counselor right away, and learn about grief. Learn the language of grief. Learn how to talk about it, and how share it. Learn what to expect of yourself, and others around you. By getting a professional involved, you take onboard a powerful ally who is an expert in this subject matter, who can help you carry the load. A burden shared, is a burden lessened, and like it or not, assimilating grief is a great burden to bear. Don’t try to bear it alone in silence. Get help. Right away.

Second (and I suggest under the advisement of a grief counselor), begin moving your body. Do some kind of deliberate physical movement every single day. Your body is very much a part of the metabolizing process, and it is where a lot of grief gets stored. By doing physical movements as you are going through the assimilation process, you allow some things to work their way in so they don’t become calcified and hardened in your joints, muscles, and bones, and other things to be released rather than stored. If you don’t exercise, you store up excessive fat in the body; you also store up excessive grief that should have been released.

What should you do to move your body? Anything that calls to you really – but nothing too strenuous. Do whatever is easy to maintain, and appeals to you. Walk. Go to yoga. Take a Pilates class. Run. Go to spin class. Do Tai Chi. Whatever calls to you, do that. But while you are doing it, I invite you to NOT do it with the mind focused on “releasing” grief, or anything else. This can create a whole bunch of problems that aren’t necessary. Your grief counselor can explain this fully. So just move your body. Do this every day. It will help keep things moving, and the endorphins produced by movement will feel good.

Third, I suggest participating in some kind of energy healing work. I like reiki, or healing touch. But acupuncture can be very good energy work. Art of any kind is great for moving energy. Playing music (and singing in particular) is a good way to release energy. Breathing exercises are excellent. Writing is a good way to release energy. Choose something that appeals to you. But whatever you do, do it with the intent to harmonize, and release stuck energy.

Fourth, begin working with your spirit. This might mean going to church. It might mean prayer. It might mean reading science magazines, and studying physics. It might mean spending quiet time outdoors (or my favorite, in the ocean). It might mean studying the stars, or contemplation on the vastness of the Universe. It might mean comparative religion study, or poetry, or reading the great epics of many civilizations.

But whatever it means to you, the point is to engage with things that are bigger than yourself, and especially matters that are larger than day to day human affairs. Think VAST. It’s not that the mundane is less spiritual, but lets face it, it is easier to feel your spirit gazing at a snowcapped mountain than a pile of trash on the corner. Some day you might aspire to see spirit in both, but for now, why make it hard on yourself? The spirit is that part of us that can handle anything. It concerns itself with things that are vast, as it’s nature is vast. So if you look at things that are vast, or think about things that are vast, or have an experience of vastness, it is refreshing to your spirit. And from a functional standpoint, in the vast expanse of the cosmos, grief becomes a lot less scary. Not less important, but certainly it gains some “right size-ness.”

As you’ve been reading, you might have picked up that I am suggesting practices to work with your mind (therapy), body (move your body), spirit (contemplation), and your energetic field (reiki/acupuncture). I think about each of these as being like a blade spinning in my life’s blender. I want each of them sharp as they can be, and spinning in perfect balance (I certainly don’t want any of them dull or not working). Then, whenever something happens in my life that triggers difficulty (including grief), I imagine the event like it’s some substance that’s been dumped into my life blender. Sometimes I see it as a huge block of stuff. Other times I see it as a kind of sludge. Then I imagine those blades starting to churn, grinding away at the event, preparing it so it can be metabolized into my existence.

When I think of major events this way, it helps me to remember to be patient with myself. Depending on the size, and power of the event, it can take quite a bit of time to grind down, digest, assimilate, and integrate. And even once it is distributed, I still have to get used to the newness of it. I see this as being just like eating food; it is going to take a lot longer to digest a 24oz porterhouse, baked potato, bread, and desert, than it is to digest an 8oz juice smoothie. So if some event feels big to me, and I start to feel like I “should” be past it “by now.” I remind myself that the process of assimilation and integration is just like digestion – it takes however long it takes. This allows me to calm my mind, return to my daily practices, and focus on keeping my “blades” sharp so I don’t delay the process.

In conclusion, just remember, we can’t “get over” grief, or the events that trigger grief. Grief is a function of love – to never grieve, is to have never loved. Instead, we turn our focus toward assimilating, and integrating these events into our life. This takes effort AND it takes time. Time on it’s own, heals nothing. It only compounds what we have or have not done. So take action: get into therapy, move your body, clear your energy, and get in touch with your spirit. You cannot speed up the process, but you can keep your blender working properly so you don’t slow it down. And lastly – be patient and loving with yourself always. There is no “right” way to grieve. There is no “timeline” to grieve within. Grief obeys no higher authority than itself. All we can do is work with it, and try to not let it get stuck along the way.

With Love and Gratitude – Tim Michael VanDerKamp

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