Moving Beyond What Is Familiar – An Antidote to Grief

Everything felt new when I explored the Lost Coast of California. New territory of any kind can be helpful when dealing with grief. It helps to move beyond what is familiar.

Everyone Knows Grief Is Attachment

Whether it is the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or the loss of something precious, it is always the attachment that hurts. But the mind is not just “attached,” the mind has literally become identified with that which it loved.

On a practical level, this means that the person or thing that we loved has become a part of who we actually are, a central part of our life. When they die, or when the thing we care about is lost, a part of ourselves is lost. 

Even after this loss, the mind remains identified looking for what is no longer there.

This Is Habit

I was used to being able to call up Mom and talk to her any time. When she died, I no longer had that option. But my mind still operated habitually. I would think, “Mom will know,” and I’d think to call her. Then I would be sad because I couldn’t call anymore. 

It was like the neurons in my brain had built all these pathways to the concept of “Mom.” Forty years of connections. I imagine it like a map of roads all converging on a city. Suddenly, one day the city no longer exists.

It takes time and attention to close all those roads and redirect them to other places, or mark them as “historical only.” And because the job seems so huge, the mind resists.

The Mind Is Lazy

The mind wants to stay with what is familiar. With a well established relationship, the mind knows just how to navigate to and from that “city” of the other person. The setup was working for the mind. It doesn’t want to start from scratch building up new cities and roads. So it gives up. 

This is grief. The mind thinks, “It shouldn’t have happened.” And it stays stuck trying to go to the city that no longer exists. And because it can’t go there, it gets more and more frustrated. And this zaps what little energy was available for rebuilding. It becomes a negative feedback loop.

Inquiry Helps to Break Out of the Loop

When the mind goes down any “road” to the “city of Mom,” it is always motivated by some want or need. “I want to share this with her.” “I need to talk with someone who understands me,” “I need a hug.” 

Whenever they come up and I question these thoughts using The Work of Byron Katie, I find truer statements: “I want to share this with me,” “I can talk with someone who understands me,” and “I need to give a hug.” This starts to break the cycle. 

The mind starts lo see the other options. “Mom” was not the only “city” in my world. I am not dependent on just this one relationship to get what I need. Options start to open up, and enthusiasm starts to build again.

But This Is a Practice

Understanding this is not enough. The mind has to go through the process of questioning each want and need until it sees that all the roads to “Mom” are no longer viable, nor necessary. It takes time for life to bring up each one. And it takes time to question and turn each one around. 

But the alternative is doing nothing. Then the mind wins: it doesn’t have to adjust. But grief thrives unabated. 

The choice is yours. Which way works best for you?

If you want to look closely at grief and how to move through it, join us in Austria in September for my workshop Dealing with Grief.

Have a great week,
Todd

“Dying is just like living. It has its own way, and you can’t control it.” Byron Katie​, Question Your Thinking, Change the World

Further reading: When am I Going to Deal with my Emotions

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