What do Boxing, and a Children’s Book Have to do with Grief?
December 5, 2022
BY KEN BARRINGER
This is not some lead in to a “two people walk into a bar…” kind of joke. In the sweet science that is boxing there is a training technique that one might first think of as counter-intuitive instruction. Upon further exploration is intuitive instruction. To be more specific, in a boxing ring when your opponent is approaching you and is looking to throw a punch at you, your instinct should be to back away. However, boxers are taught to move toward your opponent to avoid getting hit (a way to manage the fear by literally leaning into it). In the language of grief, our instinct when faced with a loss might be to back away from the fear of emotions related to losing someone or something.This makes logical but not emotional sense. We try and protect ourselves from harm – physical and/or emotional – by backing away from it. However, like boxing, if we backup to avoid we are giving our opponent (fear) more room to maneuver and gain momentum increasing the chance of harm given a broader canvas for hurt to occur.
Plus, if we are always backing up we could trip (metaphorically speaking) and experience an additional type of harm. If, like in boxing, we address the fear by leaning into it but staying alert we are addressing the fear in a more active, mobile way. We can still feel (get) hurt but there are no free rides in grief. Boxing; leaning in rather than backing away. Sounds like excellent grief management.
“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” is a classic children’s story written by Michael Rosen. In the story the family going on the hunt are all prepared; they have their binoculars, their curiosity and they are not scared (well maybe a little, the family says). As they venture out obstacles keep coming up from tall wavy grass to a big river to a dark cave. They greet all the obstacles with a chorus of, “We can’t go over it, We can’t go under it, We’re just going to have to go through it”.
Hmm, sounds a great deal like grief management. We can be ready, prepared and not scared (well maybe a little) for a pending loss. Obstacles (such as personal issues) will come up and we may be tempted to go over or around them but ultimately, we can’t, and the only way out is through. The river in the story, they hope, is not too chilly, the cave in the story, they hope, is not too dark. Well, rivers are chilly, caves are dark but if the family seeks to go through them, that is the way out and the means of management. There may be temptations to try and negotiate with the river (maybe it’s not that chilly) or the cave (it might not really be that dark) but this doesn’t detract from the fact we still have to go through them to get to the other side.
Such is grief management. When we can lean into the loss, rather than back away. When we can take a mindset of, we have to go through it rather than try to go over or around it these aid in our healing and processing of grief. After all, at the end of the going on a bear hunt story the family runs home to get under the covers and proclaims, “we are not going on a bear hunt again”. No one wants to be grieving so options like back, over and around make sense and can be sustaining options – not just long term.
Eventually we must lean in and go through it. We get to be in charge of when, but this is the how.