Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 60, titled “Let’s Be Unproductive For Once.” This is the week we are going to be a little more uncomfortable. I want you to deal with your emotions in a new way this week, but don’t worry – you’re not going to start journaling! In fact, I want you to do the opposite. Instead of wondering about what an emotional response could mean or need, I want you to express the emotion and simply move through it without a second thought. Especially without an apology for the emotion itself. Because for once, we’re going to be unproductive and messy with our emotions and invite them to simply exist.
So you might be thinking that unproductive behaviors are counter to our target of “doing” the grief work, and I can understand why you might think that way. But you’d be wrong. Because the grief work is not a monolith – we know now that formulas and methodologies that work for one person do not always work for another. In the same way, we have to decide if our intentionality and constant working toward an outcome or target is really serving us in the way our grief needs our attention right now.
Maybe you’ve heard the adage that “rest is productive.” And it is, because rest is where we find restoration. So in that same vein, I’m going to push back on my own insight about doing the work of grieving. I want us to learn that what is productive is not always helpful, and what is helpful is not always what we might call productive.
So why would I want you to just emote and not worry about where it’s coming from? Listen, I am the QUEEN of asking the question, “What is this unto? Why? What is this for?” After all this time, you’ve trained to become intentional with where you place your attention. You’ve worked yourself dry, allowing tears to fall and asking hard questions of yourself and your values.
And in so many ways, that intentionality is beautiful. It’s moving, inspiring, and helpful. It even allows us to question ourselves in areas that we may have overlooked as meaningful. The question of “What is this unto?” also invites us to be serious for a moment about the motivation behind our actions. Are we asking for change because it is unto something greater? Then push forward! But when we find ourselves arguing with stop signs in our pursuit of healing, the question seems appropriate to help redirect that energy.
But when it comes to emotions, the question is completely null and void. This is where today’s conversation is going to get uncomfortable. Nine times out of ten, I know you would rather ignore your big emotions. They’re inconvenient, frustrating, and often feel so boring and tiresome. Am I the only one bored by repeating emotions? If I am, then I’ll ask my therapist why that is. Regardless, our big emotions are seriously disruptive to our days – especially when we felt like we were cruising down easy street without a care in the world.
Maybe life finally felt a little more stable or “normal.” Maybe it felt like you had a grip on things and could handle the minor inconveniences. As a reminder, that’s what we call an open window of tolerance.
Then big emotions show up and slam the window shut so fast, you barely have time to get your fingers out of the way.
Are you the person who then says, “WHAT THE HELL? Where did these emotions come from?” Because I know I am often wondering how such intrusive thoughts and emotions could rise like a tsunami and completely derail my day.
There are typically two responses we see when these kind of whirlwind emotions emerge. The human tendency is to either minimize them and pretend they do not exist, or give into them and create a sense of melancholy ownership over the emotions themselves. Some may go so far as to overidentify with these big emotions, struggling then to find a way forward or through the emotions at all – and THIS behavior circles back to the first place of denying they’re real because eventually, we all get tired of feeling defined by our anger, sadness, or fear.
But what about another path? What about the option that says it’s okay if our emotions are meaningless?
I can hear you now. “But Mandy – your entire framework of grief support is based on creating meaning around our loss that matters to us as a griever! It’s about exploring those big emotions and uncovering what makes us feel alive, even amid the worst experiences of our lives. It’s about learning how to integrate the thoughts, emotions, feelings, and connective tissue in our experiences to the truth of who we are now, and how we plan to move forward.”
Okay, that might be my own inner world thought about the work I do, but you have to admit, it sounds really good, right?
What you might actually be thinking is that the idea of meaningless emotions doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, emotions are information. They carry valuable data for us to investigate and hold close as important. They’re pointing us to what hurts, what needs attention, and what can be made whole when our intentions are set on healing.
But listen. Does a child need a reason to laugh? Do they find great meaning in the universe because they allow themselves to cry? Do they feel compelled to write the saddest song known to man with each heartache in order to justify the emotional expression?
They cry when they’re sad. They laugh when something is funny, even if they’re laughing alone.
Especially when we grieve, we are so consumed with our adulthood and responsibilities that we forget to be human. To be childlike. To invite the playful nature of our humanity to surface and serve us as it was meant to. Our human nature is to pursue connection and that does not always mean what we do to create connection is inherently meaningful. What I mean is that we don’t need a book club to have a good conversation. We don’t need a roadmap before we can take an adventure together or on our own. What we need is the willingness to be frivolous. To have adventures without meaning; to express our emotions without analyzing the value on the other side.
In grief work, we have a lot of systems, methodologies, frameworks, theories, and plans as to how we can integrate our experience into the truth of who we are and who we are becoming.
But in the process, we nearly invalidate the emotions we experience. We can be so consumed with finding meaning and creating evidence of our healing that we fail to recognize the very healing nature of tears themselves. The restorative nature of laughter? That alone can move mountains.
If you don’t believe me, google a video of someone laughing. You don’t need to know the context of what happened; you don’t need a joke or a punchline.
Let your laughter be unproductive. Let it be without meaning. Watch someone else laughing for a few minutes and bet that you will start laughing, too. Or maybe you’re annoyed with me, and you’ll force yourself not to even crack a smile.
Whatever you do, let this conversation be the start of an invitation in your life to be unproductive. Sometimes, we feel great anger and we just need to feel it. I often say that anger is secondary, pointing us to a wound that needs our attention – anger is just the protector. But honestly, I’m an inherently angry person. Sometimes I just want to express that anger and move on from it without diving too deeply, and that itself is an incredibly generous gift. Especially when so many things make me angry I can’t have nice things anymore. In full transparency, it’s literally to the point that friends and family call me Roy Kent. If you’re a fan of the Ted Lasso show on Apple TV, you’ll understand the reference and if not, think about the Chris Farley motivational speaker bit and how frustrated he seemed every time he spoke.
It’s not anger; not really. It’s injustice and passion on behalf of someone else or self that deserves to be treated well.
But then again, sometimes it’s just anger. And it deserves to be honest, put in whatever 2 cents its carrying, and then move right along without a second thought.
Thank you for listening to episode 60 of Restorative Grief. Emotions are easy to minimize and I think a lot of our time spent in grief work is trying to be mindful that we avoid minimizing and stuffing the things we think and feel. But there is something to be said about recognizing an opportunity for casual mindfulness – allowing our emotions to breathe and then float away on the breeze. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is a chance for us to build up our tolerance.
Grief isn’t going to be controllable or easy to navigate, no matter the time it arises. But if we can allow ourselves to let a wave crash into us without feeling overtaken or obsessively curious for meaning, we can begin to recognize integration of our grief experience into our new understanding of the world around us. And that will activate some powerful, helpful emotions of its own.
If this is your first time listening to Restorative Grief, thank you for being here. I would be honored for you to subscribe, leave a happy little five star review, and share this episode with your own circle of influence. It’s natural to have emotions and let them simply pass on by.
And as always, THANK YOU to the patrons – I’m beyond grateful for your financial support of the work.
And as always, one last thing: Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Sometimes it just looks like rest. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from this episode: