“Our integrity is the basis of our confidence in ourselves and the confidence we inspire in others.”
-Stephen R. Covey

Grief can make a liar out of you because there is a disconnect between how you feel, and how you think you’re supposed to behave.” – Maria Shriver

This was the opening line of a piece that hit me to the core this morning, written by Danielle LaPorte and sent to me via email by Gail Larsen of Real Speaking. It’s all about grief.

Number three on Danielle’s list hit me the hardest:

“Denying grief her power squelches your vitality. You can dream and laugh and march on, but until you swallow the bitter tea that Grief has brewed, things won’t be as vibrant or grounded as they could be. And that’s half dead.”

And then number six:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” (Maya Angelou). Grief needs to hear your story told. Speak it out to a sacred listener. Be witnessed.

And finally, number seven:

“Tell a new story, one that includes the description of how you healed.”

Danielle captured the essence of what seems to have been appearing over and over again in my life this past year.

The image of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Only the caterpillar doesn’t just go inside the cocoon to sleep and grow beautiful wings. The entire caterpillar dissolves into a gooey primordial soup. Its body no longer exists in a recognizable form. Only from this soup does the butterfly emerge. AND, as the butterfly begins to emerge, with folded, wet wings, it must struggle to break out of the cocoon. If you try to cut the cocoon, or somehow remove it to “make it easier” for the butterfly, it will actually die. It needs to work and struggle in order to live and fly. Sound like the salmon who must swim upstream against a strong enough current in order to make it back to their birthplace and spawn? Or the grapevine that must go through a dry period and dig its roots deep into the ground, and struggle, in order to produce the most flavorful and complex grapes?

There are two themes actually in these examples. First, that there must be death before new life can be created. Second, that there is a necessary, vital struggle from which the fullness of life emerges.

Until reading Danielle’s beautiful post, I didn’t realize that I’ve been grieving my own death during 2009. It’s been the death of a whole set of old identities, attachments, thoughts, beliefs, and perceived needs. I’ve conveniently and politely encapsulated it as “liberation” or “spiritual freedom” because that sounds so much better in social conversation. However, the truth of the matter is that I’ve been dying. The fact that I haven’t acknowledged my own grief is the reason I can’t even say “I died.” If I could bring finality to something, and say goodbye, I could properly grieve and then really move on. Instead I’ve been staying busy, all the while grieving. Luckily the things I’ve been staying busy with are healing – yoga, music, voice, breath, mantra, writing, reading, listening, connecting, learning, creating.

This has helped to alleviate the pain. It has helped me appear to skim gracefully through my current job while my heart has not been in it. But what I realized in my body on Friday night was that the anger of doing that has simply built up in my heart until it finds a place to burst out. Usually it appears in the most innocent of moments, directed at the most innocent of people who really truly love me. Maybe it finds its release there because it knows I will be safe, no matter what. Anger is no more powerful than the other emotions, unless we feed it. I have been feeding it – albeit in smaller doses this year than last, and offset by more peace- and joy-filled activities to balance it out – each time I welcome a student into my studio and know in my heart that this is no longer the authentic, truthful expression of my integrity. That part of me has died. It is dead.

And it’s SO hard to acknowledge that. Because I feel responsible for creating it. But that’s a GOOD thing! That’s my creative power. And it’s also my creative power to recognize a death and make room for something new, already stirring inside me. It didn’t take me long to “think” of something else to do. The very fact that I felt angry about my job for the past two years or so was the only signal my soul needed to guide me toward a new path. When that small anger signal didn’t do the trick, my soul sent me despair. Then fatigue. Then the need for solitude. Then little gifts of insight. Then physical pain. Then the courage to take a month off. Then some new teachers, full of love, stories of struggle and hope, and lifelong, passionate learning. And now a whole new way of being, just in time for the new year.

So how does one “announce” grief? How does one gain witnesses for one’s story of grief? For my current clients, I’ve been inching my way into a new story without directly acknowledging my own death. In a way I’ve been depriving them of the opportunity to grieve. This is not kind or compassionate. However, I’ve been waiting to be able to tell my own story of healing, and to show them some hope, before I announced anything. Secretly, I’ve hoped that my own blossoming would just show, and speak for itself. But when I realize that they’ve witnessed a death, or maybe even just someone being rushed off in an ambulance in critical condition, I recognize it’s probably appropriate to notify them with certainty, and allow them the space and permission to grieve.

Something I read in Danielle’s comments also rang a bell with me. She said she used to call her first business (the one that she founded, then fired her, and then got sold off in pieces by the new CEO after she left) “her baby”. Now she just does her art. And it feels so different.

I totally know what that feels like. I improvise daily, both with my schedule and with music. I view my life as my art now. I just do what I love, with devotion and reverence and care. And now I’m building up the courage to actually share it, in service to others. I’m not trying to “build a legacy” or tell someone how to live or what to do, or even overtly to change the world. I just practice and do, with the knowledge that simply living from a place of humility and passion is itself the highest form of the human soul’s expression. And that is more than enough for my life’s purpose.