Assuming you have breath, you get the same number of hours in a day that I do. In those hours, we ultimately decide what we do with our time. Set aside your arguments about obligation and responsibilities for a moment. When you are faced with loss, you are not only working to maintain status quo in your daily life, but also challenged to find some kind of balance between learning how to trust the unknown again without investing your every waking moment fighting for control or clarity. This week, we’re going to talk about the misunderstanding grievers have of the two, their relationship to trust, and a method of meditation we can use to move into a smoother daily existence in this grief process.
Control and clarity seem to be simple concepts – that is, until you get into the weeds with grief and it begins to feel like you know nothing at all. Let’s first address why we’re chatting this through. In my work, I speak with grievers daily and with each new client, I ask the question: “What do you want?” Off the bat, it’s an aggressive question and there’s a reason for it. The response always includes the word clarity, but rarely is the reasoning clear. Why is that?
From what I can tell, it’s because we misunderstand the relationship between clarity and control. As we are grieving the unwelcome circumstances in our lives, we are faced with uncertainty. We can’t control or prevent more grief from happening to us, but we sure believe we can and so we set ourselves up for failure by structuring everything going forward around the idea that we can control our lives to the degree that we feel no disruptive or uncomfortable emotions. There’s a false belief that if we can control tomorrow, we can have enough quiet in our minds (because the fear is now absent in a predictable future) and we can gain clarity about what we want and what tomorrow can hold.
Chasing this confusing and unrealistic utopian thought exercise is futile. The opposite of uncertainty is not certainty; it is trust. Our ability to trust tomorrow – despite only having a vague idea of what it may bring – comes from clarity not of the future and our life’s trajectory, but from clarity around who we are, what we want, and trusting that we will continue to provide ourselves with comfort and compassion no matter where we are headed. Author and poet Khalil Gibran wrote: “Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but wanting to control it.”
Our relationship to trust is directly impacted by our understanding of control and the idea that we can manage the future. In a coaching relationship, we are building trust with ourselves through a structured and repeated method of approach in our lives, all framed within our core values and the targets we set for the growth we want.
When we lack trust in ourselves, we spin out with lofty targets and unrealistic expectations on ourselves. When we lack trust in others, we guard against their insight, wisdom, advice, and support. When we lack trust in the future, we frame everything with anxiety, allowing the worries of tomorrow to be the first thing we consider when we think about what is possible or even what we want.
Think back to the beginning of this conversation. I asked you to set aside your arguments about obligations and responsibilities, not because I don’t find them meaningful but because in my own life, I am often anxious. It makes sense, and the peaceful invitation to remember that I am ultimately the one deciding what to do with my time raises the anxiety and challenges my sense of control. I want to argue and push back, pointing to all the obligations in my life. I want to defend myself for not progressing further or meeting another unrealistic target I’ve set for myself, putting the blame on external influences instead of myself.
But it’s more than just a defensive posture or self-preservation strategy that raises these arguments – they come from a lack of trust in myself, in the insight of others, and in a future that could possibly feel positive or hopeful.
Clarity isn’t a magical manifestation when all things are still and managed. Clarity is the answer to a untrusting reaction that wants to control the outcomes. Thinking about what we want in the future or the goals we’ve set isn’t control; it’s allowing ourselves to see a potential future that relies on us for the outcome.
Our internal worlds are so much more delicate than we realize. In my life, I’ve realized the amount of times I’ve strengthened my resolve to survive a situation, only to find myself incredibly stressed, tense, and unwell at the end of it. Sure, I white-knuckled my way through the chaos and things feel okay on the other side, but are they really okay? Is living a tense, stressed existence in alignment with the goal I set or the values I hold dear?
Check in for a moment to see if you sense any resistance in yourself. I usually find resistance in my chest and guts – the places where so much compassion and wisdom sits, and it is as if my body is trying to remind me that if we just think long enough we can find an answer which, spoiler, isn’t always the case. The resistance we feel to releasing our need for control and learning to trust the unknown future will ultimately dissipate when we recognize that we don’t need to trust others or the future – we need to cultivate trust with ourselves.
I can choose to be a person of rhythm and habit. I can choose to be a person of quiet and stillness. I can choose to be a person of chaos and disagreement. I can choose to be a blend of all these things. We will always have external circumstances influencing our responses. We will always be a body with an autonomic nervous system, working to keep us safe against perceived threats. We will always carry the younger parts of us, working to remain hidden and small to survive what feels like too much. We may even have physical scenarios in our story that limit our ability to choose, and yet, we still have the free will to make a choice toward our own healing.
I imagine some of you are coming up with the one scenario of a person without the right to choose. Your own protector parts are irritated, making note of all the people and exceptions to the rule of autonomy, discrediting what I’m trying to share. That’s okay. It’s expected, really. If that’s you, this is a perfect moment to notice your protector, pause the episode, and let them speak up. Let them say what they need to say. Let them be heard. Let them criticize me and push back, and when they’ve shared their story, be clear and quick to express gratitude for their vigilance. The role of those protector parts is exactly why we’re trying to control an unknown future – to secure safety. In this scenario, it’s the role of an old protector to keep us safe against the idea or belief that maybe we have more autonomy or responsibility to our own lives and our own outcomes. Maybe we aren’t as victimized in our circumstances as we think we might be. I’ve spent years lacking ownership over myself, and in doing so, I’ve lost a lot of time in relationship with myself, too.
The practice of taking ownership over ourselves today and our future selves is where we gain trust. It is the act where we choose to build relationship with ourselves first and foremost. Your life was never meant to live in isolation, so as we spend so much of our time in solitude, we have to learn how to recognize that even when no one else is in the room, we are not alone. I don’t mean this specifically in a spiritual or religious way, although you can certainly apply that concept here as well. I mean that when it’s just me and myself in the empty space, that does not have to feel like a lonely space.
Bringing ownership into my relationship to me allows me to see who I am right now and that sight is what creates insight. That is where clarity arises. The me I am right now has values, fears, hopes, and even jokes that deserve to be heard and shared. As I spend more time with myself being present, journaling, asking questions, and reflecting, those aspects of me become more valuable to me, too. I see myself as someone worth developing connection with. I establish what we call “attunement”, finding new ways to relate to myself and to understand what I’m going through without minimizing or deserting myself when it becomes too much.
Attunement practices are fairly simple, and often dismissed as unhelpful because they require time. They require intention. They require us to relieve our protectors from their duties, and to allow our true self to simply exist without judgment. As we practice attunement, we build our trust in ourselves and the decisions we make for our futures.
Earlier in this conversation, if you took a moment to address your protector and let them share the critical thoughts or pushback, you were practicing attunement. Noticing what is going on in the physical body, the mental body, the spiritual body, or the emotional body are all part of the skill of attuning to our selves and our needs. Even the energy body and the way we move through the world around us is impacted by an intentional attunement practice – and this work can heal our interpersonal relationships, too.
This grief work is all about integration. Finding the ways we can carry and wield our weighty concerns without throwing out our backs and dropping it all on the sidewalk. The work of attunement is powerful and with enough care, provides the clarity we seek without lulling us into a false sense of control. The desire for a controlled future leaves us hypervigilant, feeling stuck and powerless. What things will look like in a month or a year is not the concern for today. For today, you can exhale the need for control and trust that you will inhale a sense of peace – over and over again.
Thank you for listening to episode 122 of Restorative Grief. If you find that exhaling the need for control is too challenging, here’s a brief practice you can take with you. Picture your worries about tomorrow as clouds in the sky. You can label each one if you’d like, being specific, or you can simply see a cloudy sky. No matter how dense each cloud may seem, as you slowly become aware of your breath, keep the image of the clouds in mind. With each exhale, notice how the clouds shift a bit. As you continue to monitor your breathing, imagine each cloud continuing to break up, moving apart and revealing a bluer sky in waiting.
The future you are heading toward will have cloudy days. There will be trials and tirades and tired people, but there will also be days full of laughter and parades and rest – if you choose that for yourself.
If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I want to thank you for making time to intentionally approach your grief. Please remember to subscribe to the show and leave a review so others in need of grief support can find us here, too. There are more episodes, transcripts, and resources available at MandyCaphart.com and as I mentioned at the top of the episode, we would love for you to become a Patron of the show as well. Check out the show notes for more details and how to find me on social media, and keep yourself close as you move through the rest of your day. It’s easy to distance from ourselves when we’re grieving, but you need you to be near for healing.
And as always, one last thing before we go. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from this episode: