Ritualizing Loss, A.K.A. Burning Things at the Beach


A confession: I used to watch The Vampire Diaries. It’s mildly embarrassing to admit, but it was such an addicting show. Some of my co-workers were trying to get me hooked, so they left the first season on my shelf at work. I watched six episodes in the first night.

When a teenage girl in the show becomes a vampire, she feels a lot of loss about the human life that she won’t get to live. She won’t grow up, go to college, or have kids. A group of her friends hold a wake for her to process the loss of her human self.

Around the time that I was (binge) watching this show, I also read this piece by Julie Peters called The Relationship Funeral: Rituals for a Breakup. In it, she writes: “Our culture is devoid of rituals.” She was specifically addressing the lack of ritual to process the loss of a relationship.

I agreed. I felt the general absence of space to process loss, and I was inspired, by Julie and The Vampire Dairies, to create it.

I have been a part of two late-night, burn-things-at-the-beach rituals since this time. They were both transformative experiences and have helped me become more aware of moments of loss in my life.

Why do I want to be more aware of loss?

Because I think we get stuck in fear when we don’t process loss.

I see it a lot in my work with people living with chronic pain. Developing chronic pain can be a little bit like becoming a vampire: the life that you thought you were going to live is suddenly not the life you are living. A fear of feeling the pain of that loss can make it very hard to move forward.  Acknowledging and grieving loss in the face of chronic pain can be a very important part of the healing process.

The book This Thing Called Grief: New Understandings of Loss by Thomas M. Ellis influenced my current way of thinking about loss and grief. He puts it simply: “Grief is not about stages you go through and ultimately graduate from. Rather it is a dynamic process of ups and downs, fluctuating with painful and peaceful moments, hours, days, and weeks.” He also quotes C. S. Lewis: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

It was interesting for me to relate my sense that we get stuck in fear when we don’t process loss to Lewis’ assertion that grief feels like fear. The relationship between grief and fear is complex. I have found that carving out the space to ritualize loss is a powerful way to soften the intensity of the fear associated with it. It doesn’t take away the sadness. It doesn’t somehow tie the loss into a little package that I can put aside. But it does seem to alleviate a sense of being frozen in the depth of the loss.

A student in one of my classes once asked, “So, how do we do it? How do we ritualize loss?”

It stumped me a bit at first because my own rituals have been very, very random. I certainly don’t have a formula, just a sense that I should burn something. Upon reflection, I think a loss ritual, at least in the way that I have approached them, can be captured in two simple steps:

  1. Schedule a time where your intention is to spend that time acknowledging something or someone that you have lost.
  2. During that time, perform some action (writing, burning, speaking, etc.) that for you is a symbolic honouring of the loss you have experienced.

Of course, a precursor to this process is simply recognizing that you are experiencing loss in the first place, which is harder than it sounds – especially in the context of chronic pain.

Ritualizing loss is the legacy of The Vampire Diaries in my life. Not every experience of loss requires burning things at the beach, but for me, late-night rituals with friends and fire have been a source of laughter in the midst of grief. A reminder that when we chose to be open to feeling the pain of our loss we also become more open to feeling joy.

10 Ways I Will Use Less Plastic

Ahimsa Awareness Living Yoga

Photo credit: Natesh Ramasamy, https://www.flickr.com/photos/ramnaganat/

A woman I know committed to living a year without acquiring any new plastics in 2010. Her name is Taina Uitto, and reading about her plastic-free adventures on her blog Plastic Manners had a huge impact on me; it made me realize how much plastic I used on a day-to-day basis. I have used considerably less plastic over the past 4 years because of her influence, but I have by no means been living plastic-free.

I recently went to see the premiere of a documentary film From the Waste Up: Life Without Plastic that she and her brother made about her transition to a plastic-free life. I have been re-inspired, and I am ready to commit to a further reduction of my use of plastics.

When Taina’s project began, I was primarily motivated to reduce my plastics use because of the devastating impact this non-destructible substance has on the environment and on the animals that mistake it for food. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about how plastics affect our health. Plastics contain harmful chemicals that leach into the bloodstreams and tissues of almost every one of us, including newborns. I am now motivated to protect myself and my family from plastics.

I’m also inspired by the lifestyle of the people in Taina’s film. She challenged a number of other people to live plastic-free for a year and told their story in her documentary as well. Everyone found the lifestyle change challenging in the first couple of months, but as time went on, all the challenge participants told similar stories about life slowing down and feeling simpler. The message was clear: all these convenient, disposable products that are supposed to give us more time somehow do the opposite.

Here are some health-friendly and planet-friendly choices I am going to make:

1. No plastic shopping bags or disposable coffee cups

These days I use re-usable shopping bags and travel mugs 85% of the time, but every so often I will take a bag or a disposable cup out of convenience. Moving forward, if I can’t get something without creating this waste, I will go without.

2. No Take-out Trash

I don’t buy a lot of “To Go” food, but when I do, it is usually sushi and it creates a mountain of garbage – the foam/plastic containers, the soy sauce containers, and the plastic bag it comes in. I am going to save myself the cringe moment I have in response to the amount of waste, and either eat-in or use my own containers to take out.

3. Buy bulk with my own containers

At Whole Foods, you can bring your own containers, get them weighed, and use them to buy bulk (and then they deduct the weight of the container at the checkout). I have a lot of weighed containers, and when I do a bulk shop for bulk items, I take them all in and save the plastic bags. It’s awesome when I do – it is a great conversation starter, and most of the containers already have the bulk codes on them, so I don’t have to worry about noting down numbers. But when I want a small amount of one or two things, I have been taking the plastic bags and creating the unnecessary waste. I am going to stop.

4. Slowly transition plastics out of our kitchen

We were blessed with an infestation of pantry moths a few months ago. Why blessed? Because it prompted us to buy a ridiculous number of mason jars, and transfer most of our food storage to glass containers. We still have reusable Ziploc containers and various plastic tools in our kitchen. I would like to actively seek alternatives.

5. Buy plastic-free spray bottles and dish soap dispensers

Over the last couple of years, I have largely transitioned to homemade cleaning products – both for my home and for my body. But I put these homemade products into plastic containers. It’s better for the environment because they are not single-use containers, but I’m still touching plastic every time I use them. I would like to find alternatives that are friendlier for me.

6. Collect my plastic waste for a month

I believe awareness is empowering. If I collect my plastic waste for a month, I will learn more about the kinds of plastic pollution I am producing, which will help me figure out how to use less.

7. Give packaging more consideration in my purchasing decisions

I tend to avoid the blatantly horrible packaging – like toilet paper from Costco, where each roll is individually wrapped in plastic. But, I also have organic olive oil from Costco, which is in a plastic bottle, and olive oil is readily available in glass bottles. I am not going to factor out things like price or whether something is organic or local, but I am going give plastic packaging a bigger voice.

8. Try a plastic-free toothbrush

I vividly remember reading about Taina’s first experiences with a bone and boar bristle toothbrush. It did not make me want to use one. I feel a little queasy even thinking about it now. But, my ideas about what is gross and what is not have been challenged and proven wrong many times before (see point #11 for an example). So perhaps a year from now the idea of sticking a plastic stick in my month and rubbing it against my teeth and gums will disgust me instead.

9. Learn more about the different types of plastic

Most of us are familiar with the recycling symbol – the three arrows forming a triangle. But, what do the different numbers inside the recycling symbol mean? From my initial research, #2, #4 and #5 are considered okay for limited use, but #1, #3, #6 and #7 should be avoided. I look forward to learning more so I can make better informed decisions.

10. Shop for new plastic-free habits at The Soap Dispensary

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about The Soap Dispensary, but I haven’t shopped there yet. The Vancouver store featured quite prominently in Taina’s documentary because it helps people live plastic-free with a lot more ease. I am looking forward to making a trip to the store and learning new ways that I can use less plastic.

11. Have a plastic-free period

This extra point is to promote a plastic-free lifestyle choice I made a couple years ago. I went plastic-free on all products related to menstruation, and it is one of the best lifestyle decisions I’ve ever made. I started with Natracare Products, which are organic and plastic-free disposable products. They are fantastic, but the cost pushed me to consider non-disposable options like LunaPads and the Diva Cup. I now use a combination of the three – depending where I am and what I am doing. Somehow taking plastics and toxins out of menstruation transformed the experience from something kind of gross to something natural and almost beautiful. I know it may sound super corny, but it happened.

I have a feeling that these other lifestyle choices are going to end up feeling just as good!


Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life


“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

I love “aha” moments. I feel excited and empowered when I see things in a new way. Change feels possible, and I can’t imagine going back to my old ways of thinking. But a lot of the time, I do go back. Not always. Some things stick, but more often than not those “aha” moments don’t facilitate the change that I think they will.

The yogic concept of samskaras and the scientific understanding of neural pathways explain why our “aha” moments don’t tend to stick: the more we think a certain way, the more likely we are to think that way again. One profound moment of thought is typically not going to overcome a lifetime of ingrained thought patterns.

Repeatedly experiencing similar “aha” moments is one way to slowly change the way you think. This repetition happens a lot in the language used around spiritual practices like yoga. For example, you might hear a saying like “This too shall pass” repeated in yoga classes, you might read it in books, and then you might find it starts to make its way into your responses.

For many of us, this subtle changing of our thought patterns is how yoga starts to play out in our lives. We find ourselves in a typically distressing situation, but our response is suddenly softer and we can be in the midst of a messy moment and not get overly worked up.

While repetition can be very powerful, sometimes our thoughts are so problematic that it is beneficial for us to work a little more aggressively with them. The best tool that I know of for changing ingrained ways of thinking is the Thought Record exercise. The process of working through a Thought Record doesn’t hold the same sort of excitement and novelty as having an “aha” moment does, but I have found it to be an effective – and lasting – way to breakdown unhelpful thought patterns.

The Thought Record Exercise

1. Identify a specific thought or way of thinking that isn’t helping you

For example, if you tend to take things quite personally, it might be helpful to work with thoughts you have about why people are doing things and how it relates to you. Maybe you think one of your coworkers intentionally undermines you in meetings with your boss. Maybe you think a friend said something to purposely hurt your feelings or you think your partner is intentionally trying to annoy you. We tend to believe these sorts of thoughts when we have them, so even recognizing them as potentially distorted is a great first step.

2. Think about the situations in which you have this thought

As we begin to better understand the way context influences the way we think, we start to take our thoughts less seriously.

3. Ask yourself what emotions you feel when you think this thought and rank the intensity of these emotions out of ten

Our emotions trigger thoughts and our thoughts trigger emotions. It can be very helpful to start to recognize the way that they play off each other.

4. Identify any physical symptoms that accompany this thought

There might be muscle tension or an increased heart rate. You might feel pain. Maybe you have a strong resistance to uncrossing your arms. Mindfully observe your body.

5. Ask yourself how strongly you believe the thought, and rank the intensity of the belief out of ten.

Most people tend to believe their own thoughts without question. Considering that it might not be wise to believe all of your thoughts is an important step in changing them.

6. Write down all the evidence you can think of to support the thought you are exploring

Make sure that the evidence is actually true – and not just other thoughts you have about the situation.

7. Write down all of the evidence you can think that does not support the thought you are exploring

Challenged yourself to spend a lot of time on this part of the exercise.

8. Come up with an alternative or more balanced thought

This step in the process isn’t about making everything okay. Rather, it is about addressing two very human tendencies that lead to a lot of distorted and unhelpful thoughts: the tendency to have thoughts that are driven by our emotions and the tendency to believe these emotionally-driven thoughts.

For example, if you were exploring your belief that a co-worker intentionally undermines you in meetings with your boss, an alternative and more balanced thought might be: In meetings with our boss, my co-worker says things that make me feel threatened and insecure. I have a hard time understanding how his intentions could be anything other than trying to undermine me, but I don’t actually know his side of the story.

9. Reflect on the process

  • Reassess (rank out of ten) your belief in the original thought
  • Note any shifts in emotional intensity that you experienced – again ranking your emotions out of ten
  • Make note of the things that struck you most in the process of reflecting on this thought

Closing Thoughts

In my experience, what happens after working through a Thought Record is very similar to what happens after hearing “This too shall pass” repeated over and over again: my thought patterns start to noticeably shift. My experience of the world starts to change because the stories I tell myself about it are different.

We do a lot of things – and chase a lot of things – in an effort to feel differently about ourselves and our lives, but in many situations, all we need to do to feel differently is to think differently. It is considerably easier said than done, but changing your thoughts may be the most significant thing you can do change your experience of your life.

If you would like a template for the Thought Record exercise, follow this link.


Sarah Jamieson