“In grief it is often that at first the pain of separation is in the mind – thoughts of the departed, fantasies, conversations, and memories. The relationship, still in form, conflagrates the mind…But eventually the grief opens into the heart, and the individual is not so much experienced as a separate body but is the essential connection that joined them in the first place. Then just the love remains….Grief, the tearing open of the heart, leaves the heart vulnerable and exposed. And the deep lesson of compassion…becomes evident.”
Stephen Levine wrote these words of wisdom in 1982 in his ground-breaking book, Who Dies?. He goes on to say that those who are grieving are plunged into “the very pit of despair and longing where they touch the reservoir of loss itself.” Stephen acknowledges that this is not a path that one would choose, “though the confrontation with this area of deep holding seems to be an initiation often encountered along the fierce journey towards towards freedom, spoken of in the biographies of many saints and sages.”
OK, you might be thinking something like, “I didn’t sign up to be a saint in this world. What’s this got to do with me?”
When you experience a painful, life-changing event like losing a life partner through death or divorce, there are times when the pain is so excruciating and raw that you wonder if you will even be able to cope with it, let alone benefit from it in any way. This is a normal response a significant loss, and in the face of it, you may be tempted to close your heart in order to protect yourself from experiencing further pain and suffering.
Paradoxically, it is the closing of the heart that promotes suffering. When we close our heart to pain, we are also closing it to love, compassion, and joy. We shrink away from experiencing the gifts that life has to offer.
Given that most of us are not aspiring to be saints and sages, my point of view is that there is still tremendous value in working with grief in a conscious way that creates capacity to ultimately embrace the gifts inherent in the experience. In the context of the spiritual opportunity present, an interesting question to ask yourself is: “How will this experience serve me in becoming a better, more loving and open-hearted person?”
Do you know the one thing many grieving women have shared with me - something that has been a common thread in my work? Most of them say, ultimately, the experience made them more loving, patient, and kind. They felt that they had grown into a better person as a result of embracing the gifts in their grief. I can only say, humbly, that it is a sacred honor to partner with such women in their healing journey.
So how do you get to this place of openness, compassion, and love? First of all, understanding that it is a journey and that it does take time and conscious energy. And it takes training. Most of us weren’t taught to do this work.
There are choices you can make in every moment starting now. You can choose to forgive yourself and your others instead of holding on to resentment, bitterness, and anger. You can choose to enter every single situation related to your loss with compassion for yourself and others. Instead of shutting down, you begin to live life with an openness and vulnerability that wasn’t there before your experience of loss.
It probably won’t not be easy to do this and it will certainly take time. And, it helps to hold a vision of healing grace being extended to you such that you emerge on the other side of your grief stronger, more loving, more compassionate, more resilient, and filled with gratitude for your blessings.
Choose love and love will choose you.