“How are you feeling today?” Shaun and I often asked each other this question in the early days after we lost James. We were, in a sense, checking in to each other’s emotions. It was a facile question, for at the beginning of the grieving process, we were cocooned by a dreadful kind of emotional numbness as we began to try to assimilate our shock and trauma.
There was no roadmap for us in 2005 – we had to muddle through as best we could and learn as we went along. If you think about it, is that really so different to the way we have had to confront the changes wrought by the pandemic?
I find one of the most prevalent ramifications of grief to be anxiety which ebbs and flows varying in its intensity. An effective technique that for me, offsets the irritating and worrisome feelings is a tool that is often used in creative writing and of which I have written before; it involves consideration of the five senses.
It is no bad thing to have a spell of introspective examination from time to time. It is nourishing, it settles your mind and it is a focus that takes you away from those awful “What if …” mind chatter questions which persistently swirl around in your head.
If you are not especially visually minded, studying a photograph can help, or listening to a piece of music. For the purposes of this post I am using the image above, which is where we walked on Exmoor last weekend, not far from our home.
Sight: Sky, land, trees, hedgerows, fields, colours, patterns … beautiful countryside
Sound: We thought we heard the first song of a skylark. We definitely heard the plaintive mew of the buzzard, and the distant bleating of sheep in the fields. In between the swishing sound of the occasional passing vehicle, the silence was absolute
Smell: The moor has its own scents. A light floral fragrance fills the air, periodically interspersed with an earthy animal aroma: it’s not unpleasant, but the oaty, warm smell I associate with ponies. If I were creating a moorland perfume, I would say it has undertones of woodsmoke, notes of green grass and a top note of gorse vanilla
Taste: The air tastes fresh, clear and cool like a draught of spring water; refreshing and pure
Touch: Prickle of gorse, soft dampness of moss and the dry papery feel of lichen-covered tree branches. The trees have no leaves yet, just twiggy fingers pointing to the sky. The rough tree trunks are stooped into bent spine shapes by the wind; yet they feel alive, vibrant with the growth to come, you can sense it when you press your palm against them
To the usual senses, I will add a sixth, and that is the sense of emotion. How are you actually feeling? Are you joyful, sad, tense, calm? What is your gut saying to you? Listen to it, as it is never wrong.
As you figuratively journey through these impressions on your senses, your mind is likely to drift into a peaceful, meditative, prayerful state where you can effectively focus on accessing your innermost thoughts.
Now is the time to offer up your worries and anxieties; let them drift into the ether, where they will do no harm, and enjoy the sensation of relief
Now you are free to enjoy a sense of gratitude for where you are, right in this moment.
Now your feet are in contact with the ground. Your face tilts to the sun and you are at peace.
Now you and the space you occupy are in perfect harmony. Examine not just your physical wellbeing, but measure your emotional barometer too, and then you will truly know, how you are feeling today. Happy drifting!