GESTALT and Befriending Grief
Here at the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies we observe and define Gestalt thus: How we perceive, organize, and make meaning of our experiences in an I-Thou relationship.
Perception is seeing the world and the other with one’s eyes, one’s senses (felt-sense), one’s heart and one’s mind. Perception is a verb. Perception is not only seeing but receiving what is seen and having an internal experience of what is seen. We not only see the tears on the face of a grieving person, but also, feel the pain of loss in our own internal processing system.
We organize what we see and feel, so grief becomes our reality also. It is so important to value that we have our own experience of grief while the other has theirs. We empathize with the other by being able to integrate a visible grief process through our own perceived experience.
HOW we perceive and organize our experiences helps us to make sense and/or find meaning in the “grief event.” We are meaning making human beings. We will take time to observe and integrate an external experience if it makes sense to us. There are many things in life that are very important to another but are dismissed by us because we may not be open and/or ready to find purpose, value, meaning in that external event.
AND, as gestalt practitioners, we are relational and believe in the inter-dependence of all human beings and all creation; therefore, the I-Thou. The “other” is treated as a person and not an “it.” The “I” is experienced as subject, not object, and is present as an equal in an I-Thou encounter.
The theory of Gestalt Therapy takes a back seat to the organic personal experiences that come from embracing the fullness of our daily lives, by living life and not interpreting, explaining, or analyzing.
The above definition of Gestalt supports an understanding of the process of grief. We can be certain that the experience of grief will accompany us through our life span. The rhythm of “hello/goodbye” is a most natural phenomena. We leave one developmental stage and move to another quite organically. We say goodbye to the loss of a loved one and meet the full impact and meaning of that person’s life for us. Thus, how we perceive, organize, and find meaning in our losses will set a pattern (a gestalt) in how we prepare for a life of surprise or a life of fear. We begin to embody our losses by opening doors and opportunities never experienced prior; or we remain entrapped and fearful of moving forward. I suggest that the task of “grieving well” is to befriend our grief.
It is easy to acknowledge that change is a part of life. The reality seems to be that most of us kick and scream when loss disrupts our familiar routines and patterns of living. To grieve is to be “heavily burdened.” Grief will overwhelm our daily schedule. Grief has its own narrative and will invade every cell in our body.
I believe that most of us plan to control our life vs living from a place of uncertainty; of surprise. I believe the acknowledgment, acceptance, and expectation of grief as a part of life may be easier to process than the ongoing denial of grief. Grief presents in each experience of loss with its own profile, intensity, and time-line. Our challenge is to LISTEN to the requirements of grief. The paradox of grief is that the more I intend to control the process of grief and/or avoid my grief (it’s been 3 months, I should be done with this); the stronger the sensations of my grief and the longer that grief will occupy my daily life; moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, year to year. I believe grief asks of me respect, patience, surrender and a listening mindful attitude. As the quote below states, grief has its own course and wisdom.
Staying congruent with the Gestalt principle of embracing our polarities; grief involves loss and gain. How can there be a “gain” in grief?
I am struck by how grief and love emanate from the heart chakra. The depth of grief is generally reflective of the depth of love for our subject of grief. I suggest that both love and grief have their own course. Grief renders us broken hearted. I’m also aware that a broken heart is an open heart. Might grief and love be 2 sides of the same coin? Can one exist without the other? Might love become the motivation and driving force inviting us to “stay with” our grief?
Befriending our grief gives credence to the presence of love.
“Think not that you can guide the course of love (grief); for if love (grief) finds you worthy; it will guide you” From the book The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
The perception of non-duality and wholeness invites me to experience love and grief as an enriching and fulfilling experience throughout life. From this perspective, love and grief are not two separate experiences associated with two separate events. Love and grief are embraced as a rhythmic dance of contact and withdrawal. In love we connect; in grief we isolate and withdraw. Grief is an inward process of self-regulation and organization. Love is the outward expression of connection. Grief may even invite a deeper understanding of love as love may invite a deeper understanding of grief. The task of befriending our grief may shepherd a new perception of living life from surprise as opposed to fear.
By Duane Mullner LPC
Faculty Gestalt Institute of the Rockies