Episode 4 The Power of Embodied Grieving

“As humans, there is no escaping loss. There’s no amount of money that you can make. There’s no amount of impact or fame you can have that is going to shield you from loss. Death is inevitable. Loss is inevitable. This is one of those really beautiful emotions that bonds us as humans, just like love does. And so, the capacity to grieve is also the capacity to be connected to humanity, to have a thread through which you can not only feel your own grief but also feel the grief of other people.” — John Wineland

Today on The Embodied Relationship Experience:

  • Understanding grief beyond loss
  • John’s experience and insights from grieving his daughter
  • The importance of establishing personal and communal grieving practices
  • How fully felt emotions can transform into energy that enhances vitality
  • The role of community in providing support and witnessing one’s grief process
  • Grief as a pathway to deeper self-understanding and connection

Connect with John:

We think of warrior work as, you know, beating on our chests or going into some kind of really incredible challenge. Well, grief and grieving fully and facing your grief is absolutely warrior’s work, because there is no power. If you’re truly grieving, you are powerless over the how and the when it comes. That powerlessness, and your capacity to surrender and then know what to do in those moments, will often determine the quality of your life.

Welcome to the Embodied Relationship Experience. I’m your host, John Weinland. Today, we’re going to talk about grief: what grief is, various forms of grief, how to work with grief in a way that’s healthy and leads to maturity, empathy, and connection. Also, we’ll explore some ways not to work with grief—ways grief gets ignored, or diverted, deflected, and all those things.

In my work over the last 15 years, I often get questions from people about how to deal with loss. Whether it’s a breakup, someone’s death, or some other great loss in their life, they don’t quite know exactly how to grieve. So, this question of how to grieve is one I think is crucial in our capacity to relate. Why? Because grieving is an honoring of our own heart, and our capacity to be with others—to be with others’ hearts—is directly related to our capacity to be with our own.

I wrote about this in my book, ‘From the Core,’ and talked about how men have to learn to shepherd their own feminine. This is one really perfect example of how to do that, and of course we’ve all have heard of the staggering statistics about loneliness amongst men and about suicide rates amongst men. It’s a real tragedy what is happening to men, and I can actually dial it down to this question of grief. Grieving is one of the most underrated practices. It’s often avoided, ignored, and not really talked about—how we can grieve.

On today’s episode, I want to take a deep dive into grief and how we can actually make grief an ally rather than something we have to get through or something we want to end. As we know, grief can take many forms. The most common form is some kind of loss: a relationship ends that was dear to you, you lose a loved one, or any number of loss-driven experiences are normally what we think of when we think of grief. But grief can take many forms.

Loneliness is a form of grief. When you’re lonely, you’re grieving the lack of love in your life. Shame can also be a form of grief; when you feel shame, you’re grieving the part of you that loves and honors yourself. So, I think it’s important that we expand this definition of what grief is beyond just the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship, or the loss of something that was near and dear to us because grief nowadays is taking many different forms in our alienated and tech-driven culture.

What I want to talk about today are the ways we can work with grief and some of the ways I see people trying to avoid working with grief. Many of you know that I lost my daughter Claire at 21 precious years of age. She had a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis, which finally won—that disease almost always wins. The story of me grieving her is wound up in a lot of the practices that I’ll be talking about today, because I literally had no choice. I had to stop everything. Any of you who’ve lost a child understand what that does to your soul and what that does to your heart. So, I literally had to find a way to grieve.

At that point, I had been doing this work for over 10 years, and I thought I knew how to face grief, how to feel things fully, how to lean on my friends, how to grieve myself. But what I found was that it was so much deeper, and the tentacles of that grief were all throughout my heart.

It took a lot. I can say now, five years later, I feel quite at peace. I still miss her from time to time, and that comes. But at the same time, I feel like my grieving process not only served me and helped make me a healthier, more relatable human, but I’d like to think that it helped other people who watched me through the process. I’d like to think that my capacity to grieve and to be really open in my grieving, and in some ways, share my grief—I did a lot of posts on it, I talked a lot about what it felt like as the months and years went by—so grief can become this incredible opportunity to inspire people.

To feel more, and for any of you who read my book, feeling more is one of the deepest warrior practices there is. We think of warrior work as, you know, beating on our chests or going into some kind of really incredible challenge or some kind of initiation. Well, grief and grieving fully and facing your grief is absolutely warrior’s work, because there is no power if you’re truly grieving means you are powerless over the how and the when it comes, and that powerlessness, and your capacity to surrender and then know what to do in those moments, will often determine the quality of your life.

It is now proven that people who grieve properly, who honor their grief, who get support in their grief, who create space for their own grief, are healthier. They live longer, they’re happier, they’re more connected, they feel like they belong more. So, there are incredible benefits to grieving properly, and there are a lot of negative side effects to not grieving properly.

We know, as humans, there is no escaping loss. There’s no amount of money you can make, no amount of impact or fame you can have, that is going to shield you from loss. Death is inevitable; loss is inevitable. This is one of those really beautiful emotions that bonds us as humans, just like love does.

The capacity to grieve is also the capacity to be connected to humanity, to have a thread through which you can not only feel your own grief but also the grief of other people. One of the practices I did a lot when Claire died was, I not only felt my own grief, but then I widened my heart to feel the grief of all other parents who had lost a child. In doing so, A) I didn’t feel as alone in my grief, B) it gave me a deeper sense of belonging and being connected to humanity, and C) I think it just made me a fuller, more healthy human.

It’s been said that grief is the cost of love. The deeper you love somebody or something, the heavier the grief when they’re gone, the heavier the grief when it ends. So, if we choose, as I hope you all are doing, to love fully and completely, there will be grief. There will be grief even if you and your partner are together for 50 years. During the course of those 50 years, they’re going to do something to break your heart. Even if you are married for 50 years, at some point, one of you is going to die, and the other will have to navigate that grief powerfully, hopefully. So when we grieve, we’re honoring our love—not only our love for the other person but also loving ourselves in the grieving. If we create space for our grief, like I’m going to talk about in a few minutes, if we create containers for our grief, it’s a way for us to—it’s actually an act of self-love.

One of the first things I want to do here is to normalize grief and present it as an act of deep self-love. It’s an act of honoring your heart’s truth, an act of fully feeling your heart. And you know, when we talk about what self-love is, it’s kind of an amorphous concept, kind of vague, right? Is it standing in the mirror and saying, ‘I love you’? Is it giving yourself a hug? What is self-love?

What I’ve seen over the years is that the deep forms of self-love are acceptance of the places where you feel lonely, where you feel hopeless, where you are racked with loss and grief. So, in the act of accepting grief, of being a ‘yes’ to grief, it’s as if we’re saying ‘yes’ to our own hearts, ‘yes’ to our own humanity.

So, the first thing I really want to do here is to normalize it and reframe grief, not as something to be avoided, but something to actually be stepped into with very deep reverence, a very deep commitment to honoring yourself and loving yourself—what are some ways not to grieve? I think that’s a really important topic because, in our fast-paced, tech-driven society, it’s very easy to be distracted from our grief. Some of the ways I see people ignore their grief are by distracting themselves with tech time, social media, substances, overwork, seeking many lovers, or taking themselves on fancy journeys. There are lots of ways we can avoid and ignore our grief.

The problem with grief is that it doesn’t actually stay buried. It sits there and festers like a pool of toxic oil or toxic sludge, and it will eventually eat at your health, self-esteem, and energy levels. One of the beautiful things about grieving is that when we allow ourselves to grieve fully, we actually have more energy than when we are stuffing our grief. That’s true for virtually all emotions. Emotions that we feel fully energize us; they liberate us, make our hearts fuller, and make us more whole.

In contrast, all the energy it takes to tamp down grief, loneliness, disappointment, and other emotions actually costs us energy. I would argue that a lot of the lethargy we’re feeling nowadays is unprocessed grief. I don’t care who you are; there is something in your life that you are deeply saddened by. It could be something like not having the father or mother you deserved. Often, we’ll spend a lot of time in therapy diving into these issues but won’t really name what’s at the core of it.

At the core, many of us are grieving not having parents who held us properly, taught us properly, and showed up for us properly. That grief often just gets masked by going into high school, college, the workforce, relationships, marriage, and having a family. Then here we are at 40, still feeling this unprocessed grief; it’s still working on us, weighing us down. You can think of a ball of grief as an anchor holding you down—not in a good way.

One of the common mistakes I see with people who are in grief, especially after a serious breakup or loss, is that they want to move on fast. They judge themselves for how much grief they’re carrying, are unable to truly show up to their lives, and just want to move on. The problem with that is it prolongs the process and, as I’ve just spoken about, makes us more energetically drained, less vital, and less alive. This ‘let me just move on’ stance that I see a lot of people take is really ineffective, harmful, and not very kind to yourself.

So, what are some of the ways we should grieve? I’m going to talk about two of them today. One is a practice that you can do for yourself, and the other involves other people. I think both are absolutely required.

One of the great lessons about grief is that I have been incredibly lucky, especially with the men who’ve supported me in my life. When my daughter was 13, just right after her birthday, she went into a coma, and we didn’t think she was going to make it. For over three weeks, my daughter was literally hanging by a thread. I remember going to my daily men’s group at the time, stepping in there, and, in front of 60 men, letting myself grieve—crying, snot flying, just absolutely letting them see my desperation, disappointment, and heartbreak.

Every time I started that, it always came up, and people knew what I was going through, so they would always call on me. At the end of the meeting, I was often surprised at how so many men would come up to me. They would be so opened, heart-opened, and inspired Some of them were teary, right?

That my grief somehow helped them to remember that their kids are healthy, for example, and to remember that there is a lot of life to live and a lot of love to give. My grief helped other people, but what it did for me was it allowed me to be witnessed. I’ll go into this a bit more in a few minutes, but for now, let me just say that these two practices—learning how to grieve by yourself and learning how to grieve with community—are essential for working with your grief.

Before I start, let’s unpack the framework that I use to talk about grief, not just grief, but really all emotions. This is true for desire, fear, grieving, love, and devotion: in the framework I use, all emotional expression is the feminine. All that we’re thinking, feeling, experiencing, and sensing at any moment is the feminine, the capital ‘F’ Meta feminine. Our personal feelings, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and sensations are our feminine, regardless of gender.

Part of working with grief is working with our own feminine, and gender does not matter here. What does the feminine crave? The feminine craves to be seen, to express, to be witnessed in that expression, to be honored in that expression, to be given space to express, and most importantly, to be a ‘yes’ in that expression, to feel the ‘yes’ in that expression.

When we’re setting up a personal grief practice, it’s important to understand that what we’re doing is setting up a practice or a space or a time that honors our own feminine. This is particularly important for men who have a harder time grieving, in general.

What we’re doing when we create this grief practice, which I’m going to lay out for you, is we are using our masculine time and space mastery of time and space, consciousness, and awareness. I’m aware that I have unfelt grief that needs to be felt, so my masculine is creating a container for that. I’m creating a time for that—maybe 10 minutes, maybe a song or two—and a space for it, maybe on a sheepskin, maybe I light some candles. I’m literally creating the container for my own feminine, for my own grief, and that actually helps grief be more fully expressed.

The way I like to give this practice is I’ll say, ‘Pick an amount of time.’ For me, it was a few months where every morning I cleared my schedule. I didn’t start work until later in the day, and I carved out my mornings to grieve. My daughter had just died; I knew I was a hot mess and wasn’t going to be much good to anybody. So, I set aside time—30 minutes, an hour. I’d put up her pictures; she had a playlist that I would listen to. I’d get on the floor by the fireplace and allow myself to grieve. I created a container using my own awareness and capacity to create time and space, and then I dropped into the feelings I had.

They would go on for 20-30 minutes—wailing, crying, stomping the ground, just all kinds of very deep expression. Then, when the time was done, I would brush myself off, give myself a bow, honor my own heart for fully expressing what was there, and then get on with my day. Sometimes the grief would hit me again; let’s say my morning practice was from 9 to 10, and it would hit me again at 3 or 4. My awareness was like, ‘Okay, here it comes. You can either stuff it, or you can create a five-minute practice to really feel it.’ Often, what I would do is give myself space for five minutes. I’d pound on my body, drop to my knees, make sounds, do whatever I could to help my grief, my feminine, be fully expressed in those moments.

Over the course of time, it really did loosen the grip of desperation, loneliness, and just absolute hopelessness that I felt after she died. Later on, about a year later, I was working with a teacher of mine, a man named Cass Phelps, who lives in Hawaii. He is a really beautiful teacher. He and I identified that there was a lot more in there, so I had to create a space. I took a couple of months off work, went to Hawaii, and just focused on grieving. I did some work with him, so I literally let him be my masculine. I did a lot of work with him where I went through the years of holding Claire’s imminent death in my heart, and I grieved some more. There was a whole other layer of grief to be scooped out.

Sometimes, as we’re monitoring—bringing our awareness to our own heart, not ignoring what’s there, literally bringing our entire feminine body to our grief on a day-to-day basis—we might find different layers; different approaches are needed. Part of honoring and shepherding our own feminine is to continually be present. What does the feminine want? Our presence. That is true for our own feminine as well. Our own feminine wants our presence, and this is gender-neutral. This is true for all humans. Being able to be present with the cacophony of emotions running through your body when dealing with loss is often incredibly complicated and elusive, so your presence is required.

This is also true for people grieving the loss of a relationship. This is a question I often get: ‘How do I deal with it? I love this person; they left; they broke my heart.’ It’s a very similar process to what I just laid out. Create time in the morning; if you have to be at work by 9, make 8 to 8:30, or 7:30 to 8, your time to grieve. Maybe it’s 10 minutes, maybe it’s 15 minutes.

But whatever it is, by going deeply into it for a shorter period of time, a more concentrated period of time, you move the energy faster, you scoop it out on a deeper level. Whereas if we ignore it and pretend it’s not there, it sort of lives in us as this low-level misery, this low-level experience of misery. So, creating a time where we can go fully in, fully experience it—I don’t care if it’s a minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, an hour—but we’re giving ourselves to it fully, is a very potent and healthy way to move it faster, to allow it to move through your body faster. Because really, all emotions are energy, right? Emotions are energy, and like the feminine, energy does not like to be stopped. One of the tenants of physics is that energy cannot be destroyed; it can just be transmuted and moved.

So, grief is a process of transmuting our sense of loss, our desperation, our anguish, if you will, into a sense of open-hearted peace. The energy hasn’t left; it’s just been moved. It’s not gone; energy doesn’t disappear; it just continues to move. And that’s why this idea of becoming intimate with your own emotional body is such a crucial part of embodied practice. I teach this to men all the time. Women have an easier time with it, but they also struggle. The capacity to be intimate with your own emotional body is the capacity to love yourself, and the capacity to love yourself translates into how deeply you can love another.

Another important component of creating this container for yourself to grieve is what to do once you actually go into the practice. So, you’ve created this container to honor your grief, you’ve set a timer or a playlist or something along those lines, you’re giving yourself permission to just fall apart and be in it. At some point, there will be thoughts that come up around your grief. One of the deepest ways to grieve is to let it be thoughtless, just filled with sensation.

So, when you go into this solo grieving practice, I want you to try to let go of thought completely and just be with the sensation. Go deep, deep, deep into the sensation without the story. That is a beautiful way to stay fully present with your own emotional experience in that moment.

Another way you can add on to that, and this is a little more advanced but I think it’s a really beautiful practice, and certainly one that I used, is as you are feeling the grief, as you’re fully aware of the grief, you can also start to feel yourself wrapped in consciousness. Wrapped in, you could call it, God Consciousness, the consciousness of the Divine, the infinite Spirit of the universe. But you are basically allowing your body-mind to be held, imagining your body-mind being held by a Divine Consciousness as you’re grieving. I will often feel this as a hand of God on my shoulder, whatever you consider God to be. Or often times, I’ll feel consciousness itself wrapping around me as I’m having this very deep experience. And that is a really beautiful way to help both structure and hold yourself when you’re in these incredibly deep grief experiences.

So, really working with mastering grief as a solo practice is very deep work. Going to therapy and talking about it, okay, that’s good, that often is good, but unless there’s a very deep excavation of the feelings from the depths of your heart, from your bones, so to speak, and unless you’ve given yourself permission to truly be with the feelings—not stepping into story, not doing what a lot of people do to avoid grief, which is blame others—’If they weren’t in such a way, I wouldn’t be in this experience, I wouldn’t be feeling this way.’ No, going into the deep loss and the experience of deep loss in every cell of your body.

We’ve talked about creating a solo practice, a solo journey space, let’s call it, for your grief, and what that entails. I’d also like to talk about the importance of allowing your friends and your community to also support you in your grief. Grief likes to be witnessed. The feminine wants to be witnessed in her full expression, and so our emotional bodies, our grief, wants to be seen.

One of the things I did, I shared earlier, was going into those meetings every day when I was suffering, and that meeting became the container, became the masculine, where I could just absolutely fall apart. I could let myself express, I could let myself emote, I could absolutely be a hot mess, and I knew that I was being held and witnessed in love.

I also had a very similar experience the other day. I was in grief about a particular loss that’s happening in my life, and I
called, and I actually sent out a text to the guys in my men’s group, and I was like, ‘I need someone to just witness this.’ Sure enough, one of the guys called me, we got on the phone, and for a good five to seven minutes, I let myself fall apart. I let myself cry, I let myself complain, I let myself just be an absolute grieving, sniveling mess, and he witnessed it. He honored it, he loved on it, he was the masculine. I was borrowing his masculine to allow my grief to move through me faster. At the end of it, I felt so much lighter, so much better, so much more alive.

So, don’t be afraid to bring your grief to others. Now, of course, you need permission. You don’t want to just show up and start losing your what. What really helps when you want to enlist the support of others is you just ask for their consent. ‘I’m in a really deep grief pocket right now. Can I just ask you to be witness to this for five minutes or 10 minutes and just hold space for me while I do that?’ This is great to do in a relationship. This is a very intimate experience that I don’t see enough couples give themselves.

Right, so if you or your partner is grieving about something, it could be grieving. You know, I have a lot of friends who have been grieving, not being able to conceive a child. Right, and so that would be a really potent and powerful thing to bring to your partner. Let’s say you’re a woman who’s had that experience to go to your partner and say, ‘Hey, I am just in a grief whirlpool right now. I’m sliding. I just need to be witnessed and seen in this.’ And your partner, of course, will say yes, or if he can’t do it in that moment, he’ll say, ‘You know, let’s get together at 5:00 when I’ve finished everything, and then absolutely, I can’t wait to hold you in your grief.’

And that just looks like letting your partner be the container, be the masculine for your feminine. And again, this is gender-neutral. You know, my partner has done this for me many times, where I’ll come to her and say, ‘Hey, I’m just like, I’m having some feelings of desperation,’ or often with Claire, where I’m just like, ‘I’m having a lot come up around Claire. Is it cool if I just fall apart for a few minutes?’ Often, times people want that experience because not enough people give themselves permission to model grieving fully.

So, it is Warrior’s work. It is setting the tone for your relationship. It is modeling for others how they can also do the same. And that is one of the reasons why I really encourage people who are going through deep grief, you know, whether it’s a men’s group, a women’s group, a couple of good friends, you know, set it up. Give them a call and say, ‘Hey, Friday night, can you guys just come over for a half an hour and let me just be in grief?’ And have them witness it.

The same kind of principles apply. If they’re going to witness it, they’re holding the masculine pole, so you can just let go and let it come through. You can let go, let them hold it, and you can just express, feel, express, feel, express, feel, express, feel. And this is how we set up proper containers, both by ourselves and then with others, to honor our grief. And then, you know, if we’re tapped in at all to it, the grief will just flow. It’ll just flow.

And I will bet you dollars to donuts you will feel better, you will feel fuller. You may actually feel a kind of joy in your grief. I remember the other day when I was having my moment, you know, about five minutes into me just being in deep, deep grief, I started to laugh uncontrollably. Why? Because a feeling fully felt turns to joy. A feeling fully expressed turns to joy. Right? Feelings that are repressed turn to depression.

So, this is a way, and these are two ways, that I often recommend that people work with their grief. Okay, to summarize, grief is not something to be feared. It is something to be celebrated. It is something to be honored. It is our feminine. It is our emotional body needing to move the energy of loss that we all experience as humans.

So, one of the things I really hope you got from today’s podcast is that grief is an ally. Grief wants to be expressed and transmuted into the energy of joy, peace, openness. And we’ve covered two ways that you can do that, both doing it in a solo practice, which I laid out here, and then also doing it, um, in listing people that love you and giving them the opportunity to hold space for a period of time for you.

Both of those ways, especially the latter, there is something that happens when we are witnessed in a very deep emotion. Something happens in our brain where we realize that we are lovable. Oftentimes, we’re more lovable in our anguish. I see this in workshops all the time, where people’s hearts get open, and they feel drawn to you because you are fully expressing your humanity. So, I hope that these two practices are helpful for you.

I wanted to give a bit of a challenge, as I probably will every podcast. I’m an eight on the Enneagram, so expect challenges on this podcast. What are some feelings that you haven’t fully grieved yet? These could go way back, back to your childhood. I remember in my 40s, grieving the father I didn’t have. Before, I’d been dealing with the anger towards him, and so on. But once I really got down to it, what I was doing was grieving the father that I didn’t have, grieving the loss of a father that I deserved.

Oftentimes, these feelings of unfelt grief can go back years; they can be very fresh. But I want to challenge you to pick something that you haven’t fully felt, and then bring one or both of these practices to it. Give yourself time, 10 minutes in the morning, to go into this feeling you haven’t fully felt. Pound on your chest, make sound, stomp on the ground, have a tantrum, put on the saddest music you can find, and give yourself space to honor things that you maybe even thought you were over. Maybe you thought, ‘Oh, you know, that’s past, that’s just… It’s not a big thing anymore.’ But it’s still there.

So, give yourself permission to both identify and scan your emotional body, using your masculine, to scan your emotional body and see, ‘Oh, where is there still a wound? Where is there still something? Where is there still a pocket of energy that wants to be moved and transmuted?’ Then, create a space for yourself to do so.

Also, I want to say that many of these principles and practices that we’ve been talking about today are in the Embodied Relationship Experience platform. We’ve put together a platform that has thousands of hours of workshop content on everything from properly grieving to repair, to sexual polarity work, to sacred intimacy work, to separate masculine and feminine practices.

The Embodied Relationship Experience platform is a beautiful place to do these grieving practices. We’ve got quite a few on moving grief and moving energy. You can just push play, and either me or somebody else will be guiding you through a practice to help you express it. So, if you’re interested in that, there’s a link for a free 7-day trial below. It’s a really beautiful global community of people who are committed to embodiment, who are committed to sacred intimacy. It’s something I strongly recommend if you want to go deeper into the principles and practices that I’m talking about today.

Otherwise, we will see you next time. I hope this topic was helpful. Please comment in the comment section, share this with a friend if you think this will be helpful for them, and I’m always happy to hear— you can put this in the comment sections—always happy to hear other topics that you would like me to dive into.

In a couple of days, I’m going to be getting into the topic of what happens when sexual polarity reverses in a relationship, and how to work with it, how we can transmute that if we want to, how we can rebalance the poles into a more juicy and stable dynamic. So, until then, we’ll see you next time.

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