I was walking through the woods the other day, completely merged with the sound of the wood thrush, when suddenly my left foot twisted under me as I stepped on a root jutting out in the path. I felt it starting to twist and relieved it by taking all of my weight off that foot, thereby tumbling unceremoniously to the ground. After a slightly bruised pride and a few choice words, I was once again enjoying my walk. Ever since I broke that left ankle years ago, I have had to be especially careful and gentle with it. I am aware that it is one of my weak spots and demands my special attention.
Most of us are aware of the weak spots in our bodies. Maybe it’s an ankle or wrist or some other part, possibly sensitivity to the sun or cold weather or maybe to a certain food. We all have weak spots in our bodies, but did you know that we also have weak spots in our psyches?
Imagine the psyche as a rope hammock. The grid of rope varies in different places. In some spots it is a tight mesh and in others there may be larger holes. Our weak spots are where the large holes are, where things flow in and out with ease. This is not such a bad thing. If we had no weak spots we would be too defended, too tight. You might think of an infant who has very few defenses. Their hammock is pretty loose. As we grow, our grid gets tighter, but hopefully maintains some of its original flexibility. Maturity requires we use both tight and loose in the right places.
When a strong bout of grief strikes us, there are times and places where we have very little control over the outflow of our grief. It comes spontaneously-of its own accord, without any invitation. When we experience a strong grief such as this, our hammock grid of loose and tight becomes clear to us. We can begin to see where things will pour through. The spots where things pour through are what I call weak spots.
Unlike other paths we use in healing ourselves, these weak spots require no safe place for expression. They could care less where you are or what you are doing. The grief will spill forth wherever and whenever it wishes. There are no ropes in the grid to hold it back.
Weak spots can be many and varied. For some folks they may be associated with a sense like hearing, taste, or smell. Often, people in grief will find that one particular sense will be a channel for floods of grief. For some, hearing certain songs or the sound of the person’s voice on a tape or video will have this power. For others the sense of smell may be the source of the grief pouring through. For some people, a weak spot may be seeing a certain item in the grocery store.
A friend of mine whose daughter died found that the song “Amazing Grace” was a weak spot. Every time he hears this song, the tears flow and flow. A couple whose young child died unexpectedly have this same type of reaction to the smell of roses. When they smell roses, they are transported to a place where the intensity of the loss pours through.
For some people it may occur when they are involved in activities that they don’t like, tend to avoid, or feel inadequate while doing. For others it can occur when they are doing something practical like vacuuming or cooking. Still others might find it related to their thinking activities, planning their future, or daydreaming about possibilities. For many people the weak spots are associated with the areas in their life where they tend to play and have fun.
Everyone has a different vulnerable place, and most of us are not limited to one. If you think back to the early stages of your loss when the pain was fresh and highly unpredictable, you may remember the places your pain flowed through without any warning or intention. It may have had to do with being around people or possibly with being alone. Think of your own experience and remember the places for you that brought floods of grief. Knowing these places is not simply an academic exercise. By knowing these spots, we can help protect ourselves when we are most vulnerable. We can have at least a small degree of foresight that we may be bombarded through this particular place. Knowing these areas can also hopefully give us a deeper understanding of ourselves and a more forgiving response to these floods. By knowing our nature and the paths where floods of feelings may flow, we can prepare ourselves.
It is obvious that when we are acutely surrounded with grief it can be of help to know these pathways of grief. At these times we need ways to keep our heads above water and find anything stable to hold on to. Knowing these paths may give us a little more stability.
There are other reasons to know these weak spots. It is not uncommon for people later in grief to experience periods when there is a need to emote, but the emotions simply will not come. People feel the pressure of the grief, the dark moods that hover when we are burdened with a great deal of unexpressed grief, but cannot find a way to funnel the emotion out of the body. It is at this time that knowing these weak spots can be of extreme help. This is the time for my friend to play “Amazing Grace.” He can now choose to play this song, consciously and intentionally entering into his weak spot. By doing this, he will allow the emotion to be released and therefore bring him toward transformation and healing.
Knowing our paths where grief flows easily can be used to our advantage. We can make conscious use of our “weaknesses” in order to release the emotions that otherwise seem quite stuck. Our previously mentioned friends might want to go and buy some roses. The smell, which formerly may have brought an unwanted wave of emotion for my friends, may at this time help them in connecting to emotions that are stagnantly waiting to be released. Others might want to vacuum.
What would be helpful to you?