Sometimes my body know things before my head does. Often, long before it comes to my consciousness that something is bothering me, my body has already sent out signals that something is going on. I noticed today, as I anticipated a meeting with a first-time client, that my stomach was tight with nerves. It only gets this way when I’m nervous, I remind myself realizing that was the only thing that had been different from a little while earlier when I hadn’t been thinking about the meeting. Great, now I won’t be able to eat until after the meeting. There’s no point in even trying. (I managed to eat dinner before the meeting.)
For me, the process often goes like this: my body feels something–nervous,”adrenalized,” heavy–then my heart kicks in, followed last (usually) by my head. It’s a bit like a musical piece: first a solo instrument begins playing (the body), then strings and other subtler instruments rise, and finally the gradual dawning of my conscious thought. Then my head, heart, and body all begin playing together, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in cacophony, but all playing. All of this is to say that for me the body often speaks first. (As I type this, I decided to put on Four Seasons by Vivaldi. Spring is currently playing.)
Spring is an interesting season for me. It holds among the more painful memories in my recent lifetime. I tend to forget about them until I notice my body dragging a bit, and tears tickling just behind my eyes. Then my heart gets involved: I notice a sadness creeping in, like the minor chords of the piece of music. These chords play gently; they have long since ceased to build into a stormy crescendo as they did when these pains first hit me several years ago. Now they are much more subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. Almost. And then my mind finally catches up. Ohhhhhh, this is grief.
This is the time of year when I commemorate a number of significant losses in my life. I do not think about them consciously until my body, heart, and mind are fully engaged and I recognize them for what they are. As someone who has struggled with depression for much of my life, I have learned to evaluate the signals that come to me through my physical, emotional, and mental faculties. I can now reasonably discern the difference between each thread of what I call “the trifecta” of depression, sadness, and grief. And while I am not entirely sure I can describe the difference between then in words, I have learned to tease out the differences in texture between the three.
Sometimes it takes me a while to sort them out, because they all begin with a sense of heaviness and a feeling like I’m wading through peanut butter. Soon though, if I zero in and listen to myself, I can identify what has shown up and connect it to something that is happening in my life. Sometimes, when I wish it was as simple as grief (as if grief is simple), I discover that it is mostly plain old depression, usually brought on by work stress. That one is complicated because I am constantly living it and must, therefore, work harder to counteract it. Grief, and even sadness are often brought on by things I cannot change, and while that can be difficult to deal with, it generally passes once I have acknowledged it for what it is.
Thus it is that in early spring through early summer, I can depend on grief to make an appearance, as I mark the impact that loss has played in my life during this season. Usually by mid summer the grief has died back down until a brief spike in early fall, when it subsides again and goes dormant until the following spring. There’s nothing for it except to wait it out with patience, compassion, and extreme lovingkindness.
During these forty days, it should not feel at all unusual to experience heaviness of body and heart. It reaches down our collective consciousness that millions of people around the world for whom Lent is significant are experiencing the solemnity and grief that accompanies the suffering and death of Jesus. You can’t put that much emotional energy in the cosmos and not expect people to feel it. And so it is, so it has been, and so it likely will be.
This the Lenten journey that we are on and now halfway finished, by some reckoning. It is walking the via dolorosa, the “way of suffering” that we all walk at some point or another. It is a time to feel the weight of that walk as we go through our days. There will be a time for celebration, but that is not yet. Until then we honor what the body is trying to tell us, even if our heart and head have not yet sorted it out. So it is and so it will be.