Grief As A Path to Self-Awareness
As we search for meaning in loss, some of the most fruitful revelations can come from an intentional opening the heart while distilling the true from the false about our own sensations. Although grieving is a painful process, it can be a valuable learning experience if we engage in a thoughtful slow self-examination as to its qualities.
The very rich, full, pulsing waves of the experience which we call grief - acute grief – is one of the primary movers of the humans. It can be like a jagged knife, tearing our heart and the very fabric of our being or it can be used as a tool to open the heart, revealing layers of intelligence and sensitivity that might lay dormant or un discoverable.
It opens us to the fundamental importance: We are small temporary specks – dust of the breath of God. The finite alone-ness of grief is informative. It can teach us to value the small and inconspicuous lives we live. At first blush, there is fear and denial and push back. We fight this with incredulity and denial.
Juxtaposed to this, when we are happy and we feel transcendent – joined to others by an invisible tapestry that flows and ebbs, we revel at the mystery and majesty of being in God’s light. But this feeling does not increase our sense of wholeness, it confirms it. It is by willingly savoring the fruits of grief that we broaden ourselves and become complete human beings.
When I speak of the fruits of grief it is important to define what grief is and what grief is not. For simplicity, I am defining acute grief as a universal emotional mental and physical response to losing a living being we were intimately attached to. We can easily shut down, capitulating to the wracking pain. We may feel a sense of the chest contracting and folding into itself. It tightens around the heart and lungs as a fist contracting onto itself, pressuring our cardiopulmonary system. Our heart and lungs respond defensively with huge sobs so that air may enter. The hands grab at nothing in particular, we lose our appetite, our sexual drive and maybe our sense of time. The days seem like months in the beginning of grief and a sense of unreality is pervasive.
Few processes in life are more powerful. Isn’t there something it can teach us? Friends who are close support us but most will be unmoved or talk about themselves. This seems to compound the sensation of alone-ness. But are we experiencing things accurately?
When we get sick there may be such a thing as a primary infection and secondary infections. A medication may alleviate certain symptoms but might have untoward side-effects. Similarly, there may be aspects of what we call grief that are primary and secondary attributes. If I am willing to dive into the fundamental richness of the experience for the purpose pf noticing solely the primary separation can I savor its richness? It would be a shame to let this process pass without gaining something.
Is there not a realization that all is temporary? That we too will pass? We can go one of two ways: we can let the weight crush us, giving in to the hypnotic call of pain or we can reach out to what is eternal in nature and express it in terms loud enough that we ourselves can hear.
Grief is not brutality. Brutality is for victims and although it is tempting to be swooned by its intoxicating Siren song we can choose to sail by as Ulysses did, by tethering ourselves to the mast of self-reflection. Grief may also show its hem as martyrdom, another out-cropping and temptation. We might get a form of enjoyment out of by showing ourselves and others the sacrifices we are making. We all have a psychic palace that houses many guests of which the victim and martyr are two of the noisiest guests. Similarly, we may be visited by others: the orphan, the slave, the thief and the hero. But heroes always die so martyrs beware. All of these guests and more – the banker, the king or queen, court jester, the magician, the mortal and the god have their place in the palace of life. There are a few times when all of their ministrations come up short. Notwithstanding our own death, acute profound grief is one of them.
The Tao Te Ching tells us that Kings and Emperors refer to themselves as orphans and paupers because of two reasons: 1) high and low share a process of one becoming the other and 2) Out of a respect for that eternal process.
There is a fundamental kernel of grief, when all the trappings of life and secondary experiences are stripped away that reveals itself. Part of that fundamental awareness is an undeniable inter-connectedness exists, that preceded us and will still be here after our passing. We only grieve that which we were connected to in the first place.
Another aspect that bears examination: during acute bereavement, it is very easy to make a sweeping generalization from the specific circumstance; because I feel alone and grieve this situation I am in fact completely alone and separate for the rest of time. This is very easy to do and is as addictive a process as smoking, eating or drinking. But not only is it inaccurate, it is proof itself of its own opposite – that there is an underlying interconnectedness which is unpronounceable and commanding otherwise the billions of other humans would have no reason to react similarly to loss. The existence of something we cannot touch is proved by the demonstrable effects of its disappearance. Just ask anyone who has had a bitcoin stolen.
So, at the heart of it (and why do we always use that word?) the information carried between the heart and the brain is the seat of consciousness. It is not in the heart, nor is it in the brain, but it exists as a processual flow between the two. The Chinese call this flow the Xin and modern psychoneurobiology is well on its way to mapping the chemical markers that sapient slow self-examination yields peptides and processes that instill order.
If I can momentarily strip away through self-examination in a quieted state the psychic physical and emotional palace guests to visit the very essence of grief, opening my heart, the guests will indeed see that there is a wise host who is capable impressing them into its favor. This is a form in turn of inter-connectedness – an interconnectedness of our own selves aligned with our own selves. We reduce the feeling of internal alienation and calm ourselves greatly. We can then be of service to others and repair the connection to the world at large. The nature of sharing grief is a demonstration of interconnectedness and its joy is like the little circle of light in the dark portion of the Yin Yang symbol.
©Daniel Weicher Dec 2017