“Practice does not make perfect, practice makes familiar.”
That’s one of the key phrases in Rick Benson’s My Chaos: Searching for My New Normal, a guide to approaches and techniques for people who are grieving.
Benson is a long-time grief counsellor who works at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Saint John, New Brunswick. In My Chaos, he shares a compendium of exercises and techniques that can help people cope with grief–along with experiences from his own career, personal stories, and inspirational quotes and images.
Many self-help books embrace a particular technique or path. Benson resists that urge, instead sharing what he knows about a range of practices–including mindfulness, meditation, walks in the woods, playing music, Tai Chi and Qigong, journaling, exercise and grounding activities like gardening. Benson is firmly committed to the notion that everyone’s path is different and what works for some won’t work for others. For instance, he’ll describe the helpfulness of meditation, but then, recognizing that sitting still is not easy for everyone, he’ll describe a walking meditation practice as well. He also draws on teachings from a variety of religious traditions, including Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Grief can be complicated, and the expectation that people “just get over it” after a certain point is not helpful. Benson shows compassion, reminding readers repeatedly that the point isn’t to become a great meditator (for example) but rather someone for whom meditation can become a regular, familiar part of life. In one memorable passage he meets with a woman named Michelle whose mother has end-stage cancer. Some days Michelle, who suffers from depression, doesn’t visit her mother and then feels guilty. Benson tells her, “We often use the word guilt, but it is actually better to use the word grief or grieving. You do not wish your mother harm, but you continue to have this grieving experience of looking ahead to when your mom dies.”
Readers looking for a specific 12-point plan to help them get over their grief will be disappointed. Those who want to explore the nature of grief and a variety of approaches to living with it will find much to think about in My Chaos.
Rick C Benson