What is Grief?

The concept of a seahorse blew Edward away. It took a few minutes for me to realize why he was so astonished. At seventeen years old, Edward had never heard of such a thing and imagined a curly tailed creature, the size of a horse, rocking back and forth on the ocean floor. Edward lacks context. Among other things, he cannot read. I read for pleasure and I read to glimpse other worlds. To access. To gain purchase on what someone else can see, feel, describe.  Not only in terms of what is out there in the world, but interior worlds as well.

Every session,  I read a few chapters out loud from Matt Christopher's book, On the Court With... Lebron James. Last week, we read a chapter describing the death of Lebron's grandmother. His mother and her brothers were "grief-stricken," but since it was Christmas, they bravely carried on for three-year-old Lebron.

"Do you know what grief is?" I asked Edward. He shook his head. I tried to explain. "After someone dies, the sadness we feel is called grief."

Any boy who lives in the Juvenile Detention Center has obviously courted sadness and likely grief has found him many, many times.  I was uncomfortable trying to describe this emotion to this hardened boy. Undefined and unlabeled sadness:  was this like the seahorse for Edward? An enormous submerged sorrow, bobbing along, in worlds both familiar and unimagined.

Meditation Reminder List

  1. Don't ask for something big to happen.
  2. Don't ask for something little to happen.
  3. Don't ask for anything at all.
  4. Breathe.
  5. Imagine an empty cavity in your chest.
  6. Imagine a ball of energy rising from your palms.
  7. Feel the heat from your palms.
  8. Encourage yourself as you would as a small child: You can do it! Good try! Try again.
  9. Let go.
  10. Promise yourself you'll do the thing you just thought of  later. Keep your promise.


If you can fix it with money, it's not a problem:Days Three Hundred Twenty Six - Three Hundred Thirty One

Grandpa Joe was a pragmatist's pragmatist and according to him, I have a problem. As a matter of fact, I'm in the midst of a full-blown crisis and I've been here before. Catastrophes happen to people who meditate and to people who don't. The other times I've experienced crisis, I was not a person who meditated. Let me say definitively: it's better to be a person who meditates. The crisis still swirls around me, but I am not sucked into its vortex. My life goes on, I worry, at times I'm consumed, but the situation outside of me stays on the outside. This is a new experience and I am so grateful to be exactly where I am. Untitled18

Gentle Failures:Days Two Hundred Forty Nine - Two Hundred Fifty One

Mantra official logo I repeat my mantra in my head. Over and over, Who Am I, Who Am I. But the thoughts in my head cycle around the mantra and pay it no attention. The thoughts form a new mantra. Fail gently, fail gently. I like the way the words sound; I am drawn to them. Gentle failures, fail gently. It goes round like that and I push the words out, but back they come, again and again.

Whatcha gonna do for me? Days One Hundred Eighty Five - One Hundred Eighty-Six

A couple of weeks ago, I was extolling the values of meditation to a young girl going through a rough time.  By rough time I mean her mother has cancer.  We talked and her eyes lit up.  She hasn't been sleeping well and here was something that might be of some use in a situation where nothing ever proved useful. "I could meditate in the evening before I go to bed.  Do you think it might help me sleep through the night?"

Sleeplessness makes everything bad worse.  The idea of a non-intrusive non-medical aid is more than appealing.  It sounds like a miracle.  I thought the meditation might help her sleep better, but I added something I shouldn't have said.  "If you have a goal when you meditate, you're not meditating.  So, don't meditate in order to help you sleep.  Just meditate."  This was an idiotic thing to say.  No one meditates to achieve nothing.  In fact, what I said was true, it's important not to have a goal when you meditate, but none of us come to the practice of meditation without a goal in mind.  I started to meditate to help me with my writing process.  Others come to soften anxiety or to keep weight off.  Once we begin to cultivate our practice, it becomes clear that meditation brings so much more and somewhat less than what we've hoped for.  So, if I had the chance to go back and revise what I said to the young girl I would tell her something else.  "Yes, it might help you sleep.  Now, go meditate and learn what is possible."

Mantra Shmantra: Days One Hundred Fifty-Seven - One Hundred Sixty-Four

Here's what I know:  Sit yourself down in a comfortable position.  I like to sit on a straight backed chair with my bare feet flat on the floor.  No crossed legs or fancy positions.  I place my hands on my legs, palms up.  The palms up thing is from yoga: let  the universe know you're ready to receive.  I take five or six diaphragmatic breaths.  That means when I inhale, my belly expands. I imagine a waterwheel in my body.  Inhale, the breath travels up to my head; exhale, the breath spills down.  I try to stay rhythmic and not to work too hard.  Next, I imagine a bright light shining out from my eyes, my ears, my nose, my mouth.  It's important to relax your mouth.  I send the light down my neck, both shoulders and arms and all fingers.  I send the light down my spine to my legs, including my toes.  The light ends in my chest cavity where I try to imagine a colorless, empty space.  This last bit of imagination is impossible and I am okay with that.  Finally, I focus on my "third eye" (the light between my eyes that I am able to see with my eyes closed).  I repeat a mantra.  Something simple like "at ease" or "peace" or the ambitious "Who am I?"   I use the mantra to remind myself to let go of my thoughts.  As a thought passes into my mind, I encourage myself to draw it down to my heart.  It helps to imagine a magnetic force from my heart that draws the thought downward.  When the next thought pops in, I encourage myself again.  It is helpful to treat yourself like you would a small child.  Say:  "Tt's okay, you'll get it next time," or "Try again." The whole process takes me twenty minutes.  I use the first five minutes to breathe and relax my body, then I spend fifteen minutes encouraging myself to meditate.  I say I encourage myself to meditate because even though I have been steadily sitting down in this practice for at least three or four times a week for the past five months, I still think that one day I'll figure out how to do this thing right.  That belief is not rational.  No matter.  I still wonder:  Do I meditate?  I'm not sure.

All the things I did not do today: Days Seventy-Seven - Eighty-Two

My third eye (the place of light I can see when my eyes are closed) is usually a soft blue circle with an uneven and unclear border. Today there was no beautiful blue light; there was only murkiness until it finally turned to a gray, shifting shape. For a long time, I haven't remembered Lee's advice to treat myself as a small child, to be patient and kind. I encouraged myself to bring the murky light, that shape that was not pretty, to my heart.

The light works its way to my chest and still I know the things I will not accomplish today will make me sad.