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Grief Work Part Two: Anchoring the Awareness of Shen

by | Sep 1, 2022 | Clinical Pearls

(Read Grief Work Part One here.) This article first appeared in Acupuncture Today in August 2022 and is part two of a three part series.

The power of grief is the power of opening to the depth of the present moment and feel both its pain and its love and tenderness. Grieving is one of the strongest opportunities to feel the texture and touch of the ground of being that we are. That ground is not only our feelings but also the deep, aware presence of the heartmind at our core, our shen. Mindful awareness of the felt sense in the body is often a key to accessing this inner treasure and anchoring emerging wisdom in body and psyche.

The grieving process is different for each person. As we know from Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s work, there are many alternating stages and feelings that arise. When we help our clients face each one, it clears the feeling and the grace of the heartmind surfaces in the form of relaxation, relief, peace, acceptance, clarity, meaning, and even joy.

It’s important for us as humans to know that grief is not forever and that each day, each moment brings a mix of grief and joy. It’s a way to slowly help us realize that its ok to feel both grief and relief or happiness in the same day or in the same hour.

As practitioners, our presence, attention, and acknowledgement of both the emotions and the heartmind clarity stabilizes this resource for our patients. We need to be fully attentive to the ebb and flow of the emotional wave and the quiet clarity and imagery that follows it. Help patients stay with their experience in a felt way so that the wisdom contained in the emotions, images, thoughts, and sensations becomes clear to them. Have them notice where in the body they notice these energies. You will often find that the comfort emerges from the same place that the emptiness or loss was felt.

Take for example a patient of mine who was working through the grief of losing her intimate partner in a drowning accident. She came in and described a heavy and undulating feeling in her belly and pelvis. As I palpated, I asked her to tell me which points were most associated with the heavy, undulating feeling. She identified CV14, CV12, ST25 and CV6 as key places of discomfort. I suggested that I insert needles in these points as a way of knocking on the door of the undulating heaviness and tightness she experienced there and see what it had to tell us. She agreed and her curiosity was engaged.

After inserting the needles and adding St36 and SP6 as distal points, I asked her to gently put her attention on the sensations of the undulating heaviness and notice any mood that may be there. As she did, she found the grief she felt about losing her partner. “I see an image of he and I in a boat rocking on the sea.” Tears moistened her eyes, and I acknowledged her sadness and deep sense of loss. The feeling in the room was one of sacredness and respect as she shed tears of sorrow.

After the wave of sadness receded, I encouraged her to stay with her body and feel the rocking and flowing sensations in her belly as a way of being with her beloved in this moment. She found this very relaxing, and I left her to be with her experience and returned 15 minutes later. She was very relaxed, and when I removed the needles, I asked her to notice her belly again and see what sensations were there.

“My belly feels smooth and moving. It’s very different than when we started. This process helps me realize that I have been cut off from my pelvis and my sexuality since my lover died. It feels so good to reconnect again. I feel whole and integrated.”

“So as you feel these smooth, moving sensations you feel connected to both your lover and yourself,” I said as a way to affirm her experience and help her stay with it a little longer. She returned to her quiet reflection for a moment. I added, “From now on these sensations can remind you of your wholeness and the love you share with him.” She nodded in agreement. This last suggestion helps to anchor the experience in her body and psyche. She can come back to it as an inner resource when she wants to re-embody the gift of love and wholeness within her.


(Read Grief Work Part One here.)


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