Down at the tribal water hole one morning, a certain distracted caveman and his beloved grandmother were surprised by a saber-toothed tiger looking for his breakfast. The grandmother became a delicious first course and the caveman was confronted by the need to make a quick decision about what action he should take next. Now if the caveman had accessed his grief in those first few moments, it is possible he would have been too overcome to keep his body out of harm’s way. He too, might have become part of the tiger’s breakfast. Alternatively, if he had accessed his anger immediately, he might have attacked the still hungry tiger all by himself. This would have been a brave but probably foolhardy thing to do.
Instead, he wisely accessed his fear and used the attendant adrenalin to rapidly remove his body toward the protection of his cave. Once safely there, his fear could give way to anger. Sensible as always, he used the anger’s energy to round up the members of his tribe. Their first response was to be afraid, too. Later, after much dancing and many rituals, tribe members who were able to replace their fear with anger or excitement accompanied the caveman back toward tiger territory. They were eager to exact revenge and to celebrate their hunting skills. Later still, after slaying the tiger, everyone experienced much relief, joy, and satisfaction, for in those days, roasted tiger meat was quite a treat.
This caveman was lucky. He lived in a emotionally healthy tribe. He had not taken the tiger on all by himself, but they neither judged nor shamed him. If they had, he probably would have felt guilt, or spent a great deal of time defending himself. Instead, he was encouraged to take responsibility for not having been watchful enough, to experience his sadness that imperfection was apparently part of his character, and to use the pain of his sadness to make an agreement with his inner self, not to make that same mistake again. At appropriate moments in the ensuing months, the caveman allowed himself to experience his great grief over his grandmother’s death. And because he was not afraid of his sadness, he let himself grieve until his grief was done. So done, in fact, that in later times when he reflected on his grandmother, all he felt was the warm emotion of love and an accompanying appreciation that he had had the privilege of knowing her.