Part I: The Tortoise, The Hare and Grief
The quick and speedy hare, confident in its ability, stops to fall asleep during the race. The slow-moving tortoise persistently plods forward without stopping and finally wins the race. The lesson is that one can succeed greatly through a slow, steady, intentional effort while a rapid, haphazard approach can lead one to fail.
Grief and speed compare closely to the lesson of The Tortoise and Hare; one moves slowly while the other moves quickly, and each achieves different results.
Our minds and hearts tend to run at a different pace while mourning a loss, and the pace of adaptation between head and heart often differs greatly.
Our minds move extraordinarily quickly while constantly adjusting to the world around us. For instance, the everyday acts of riding a bike or driving a car, or simply walking across a busy intersection require hundreds of rapid-paced, mental responses, and millions of brain synapses. Combine those acts with listening to a favorite song, or an important conversation, or a burdening personal dilemma, and we soon realize our minds amazing ability to process information and adjust is simply, well…mind-boggling.
Our brain is a turbo-charged organ and CONSTANTLY responding and adjusting in a rapid fashion.
The display of mind-speed is everywhere. Notice, most people, cannot even wait in a short line or a lobby office without shifting their mental attention to a phone to consume the next email, text exchange, or steady stream of social media feeds. Quicker computer speeds, instant photos, and even drive-through fast food are all pushing to move faster and faster.
We’ve even adapted our language to abbreviated form … LOL 😊 !!
Patience has become a rare display in our current age, while uninterrupted, extended periods of quiet stillness have nearly been forgotten altogether.
Now, consider the very difficult challenge of grieving the loss of a loved one.
What do we tend to do? What do we want?
- We want our pain, hurt, and sadness to be over, NOW!
- We want our lives to be as they once were.
- We want our loneliness to disappear.
- We want to feel our relationships are as connected as before.
- We want to again feel in control with our comfort zone restored.
- We want to feel balanced, strong, and confident.
- We want satisfaction – and we want it now!
Where do the needs of our hearts fit into the above scenario? How does the urgency of our cognitive desires account for the slow, methodical pace of our heart?
Consider that tense, unsettled feeling in your chest when something is in your life is drastically wrong, or imbalanced.
Have you noticed that feeling most often occurs when a desire of your heart goes unmet?
Sometimes you can clearly identify the reason, maybe from a recent failure, regret, or significant loss. Sometimes, the feeling may be too obscure to accurately assess.
Either way, we’ve learned our heart thrives when it rests in harmony with our mind, our soul, and with the world around us, and we can actually feel a sense of ‘heartache’ when those elements are misaligned.
When grieving loss, we too often invite conflict between our head and heart, much like the conflict revealed in the tortoise and hare story. When we attempt to accelerate emotional healing, we create a distance between our rapidly advancing, mind-driven interests and the unmet needs of our slower-moving heart.
We set within ourselves an internal conflict as we struggle to reconcile fast and slow, busy-ness and stillness, avoidance, and acceptance, cognitive and spiritual.
The results can be damaging, while we sacrifice the reward of deep and sustainable healing which provides the foundation for great fulfillment and joy in our life.
Our body certainly understands the need for rest and stillness when it must recover; our body requires sleep when it is tired, rest when it is ill, and stillness when mending brokenness.
- Why, do we often tend to resist when we require emotional healing from loss?
- Why are the dark, quiet times so often the ones we badly try to avoid?
One reason may be our culture often celebrates those who are high-paced and busy.
We’re all familiar with the high-profit sales executive always on the move, flashing an expensive car with a phone in his ear. Or commercial ads promoting the sharp, multi-tasking, soccer-mom who can seemingly do it all. Or the Hollywood socialite parading a hot, new look and always in the center of the action. And of course, the endless social media streams reminding us about career accomplishment, family accomplishment, community involvement, and only with the perfect pictures or videos on display.
Our culture fondly promotes those who are on the move, but assuredly, a heart cannot keep that pace when grieving the loss of a loved one.
Another reason may be those close to us resist or interrupt when we slow down to nurture our hearts after a loss.
Our own moments of quiet, stillness, or displays of sadness can sometimes be can be very unsettling to others. We can be often met by someone close to us reminding ‘you’ll get through it’ or urging us to ‘shake it off’.
Lastly, when needed, we even try to convince ourselves.
Quiet, still moments invite us to absorb heart-felt memories of past, present hurt, and dismay of the future. Those moments can be very difficult, painful, or downright scary, and things we reasonably tend to avoid, but avoiding those moments can later deliver a negative consequence.
Oftentimes people consider the denial of grief only to be the denial of a loss but denying loss is not the only form of grief avoidance. Grief avoidance more commonly appears as our refusal to embrace the uncomfortable, dark place of silence and stillness after a loss.
Strangely, that is also the place where profound, sustainable healing occurs.
Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, a noted author, educator, and grief counselor, offers this helpful insight about the necessity of calm and stillness in times of grief;
“Times of stillness are not anchored in a psychological need, but a spiritual necessity. A lack of stillness hastens confusion and disorientation and results in a waning of the spirit. If the mourner does not rest in stillness, they cannot, and will not, find their way out of the wilderness of grief. Stillness allows for movement from soul work to spirit work; it restores the life force.”
The famous Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, adds emphasis to this with his claim,
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul.”
Could the lessons delivered by the tortoise and hare be much deeper than initially expected?
Might those two cute little creatures offer us insight into how best to navigate some of the hardest times of our life?
Discover what The Hare teaches us about haste and grieving in Part II of this four-blog series.