In our age of positivity and spiritual awakening, we are eager to celebrate the power of love to transform and illuminate the world around us. Yet we often forget until it is upon us, how transformational grief can be if we have the tools to navigate it in a constructive way. This notion was completely foreign to me for the first half of my life. I used the age-old approach of letting my grief become anger and conveniently projecting it at others, or the world, then going out and playing some sort of aggressive physical sport to channel my energy. From the personal to the global, we see individuals and nations going through this pattern every day in the news. Though we rarely take the time to dissect and understand it. Only through understanding grief internally can we transform it so that instead of being victimized by it, we can emerge with a level of compassion and personal power that actually makes us feel grateful for it.
Grateful for grief? The idea sounds ridiculous, especially when we are engulfed with darkness. This is not at all about shoving it away, de-valuing it, or acting as if it is insignificant. Grief is every bit as powerful as love in its ability to shape our lives. Just the simple mental switch of considering grief as a teacher can be profound. I was first introduced to this concept while seeing Palden Gyatso speak with nothing but love and forgiveness about his experiences in a Chinese torture camp. I thought of all the things I have moped and complained about, comparing my minor struggles with his. Seeing his triumph, I realized that it was time for me to learn some new coping skills.
Palden Gyatso changed my world in a very short moment, by challenging me to change the way I look at the tough parts in life. I had the pleasure of bringing Palden to the Hopi Mesas to meet elders and discuss ancient history the day after his talk. He laughed at me a lot as I continued to ask him about prophecy and earth changes. He assured me over and over that if we are in the right place within our heart nothing can harm us. Coming from an individual who endured torture to speak of compassion and forgiveness, I knew I better listen to what he had to say!
The Tool that Changed My Life
During this time I was introduced to Tonglen Meditation. As I began to open up to my own grief with these new coping tools, the gates blew wide open. I became a bit overindulgent with the grief as I felt fearlessness for the first time in my life. While practicing Tonglen Meditation I noticed how often I made choices based on how to avoid the most possible grief. I became aware of how fear had been ruling my life and I started to see how it ruled the lives of others around me.
I am not a Tonglen teacher, but there are plenty of good ones out there including Pema Chodron who has a wonderful audio talk called Good Medicine. The basic concept is simple though… You sit quietly and breathe in all the fear, grief and pain happening in your life. You breathe it right into your heart and feel it with all your senses. When your lungs are full of air, it is time to exhale and let it all go, to focus on a deep and eternal peace. At the end of the exhale, you begin to inhale grief again, and in this cycle, it is as if you allow your body to be a pump breathing in grief, and breathing out peace.
The other component is that you cultivate the ability to become the observer of this internal process that is common to all humans. Nobody makes it through this life without experiencing grief, and an intimate relationship with grief also allows one to feel connected in a profound way with everyone who has ever lived. It is strange to consider, but grief might be more common than even love…
Grief is most often associated with the loss of someone or something that we love. Martin Prechtel speaks of the Mayan wisdom that considers grief as the highest form of praise. In the Mayan tradition, crying is seen as a form of prayer and tears actually feed our ancestors. When we can be present with our own grief we are less likely to project it in anger or violence onto others, we become compassionate warriors.
We cannot expect nations to act on this principle until enough individuals are able to embody it. Power over others does nothing to make us more secure, it simply creates an obsession with maintaining that kind of control. Real strength and resilience come from the personal power of being liberated from fear. Since most fear is based on avoiding grief or suffering, we can cast fear away by becoming intimate with the unavoidable in our lives.
We have many traditions to thank for this basic wisdom and I can say that it continues to change my life every day to see the world through this lens.
I’m in agreement with Theresa in regard to minimising grief and pain in comparison to others experiences. And why should we transform grief at all, personally speaking I feel and notice that grief is always in a state of flux, ebbing and flowing, and quite often it can catch me unaware! It is an emotion after all and as Jacob points out it maybe more common than love!
I’ve lost my husband, Mum, Dad, Grandparents and my closest friend as well as others that perhaps have not been quite so significant but nonetheless less have left a hole in my life. I think it’s also quite dangerous to label experiences as Negative or Positive, to try and be the Observer can be really helpful but not always possible.
Thank you for the article.
Very lucid and exceptionally emotionally intelligent article concerning grief and making it a positive instead if negative experience.
Why is it that we even need to “transform” grief at all?
Can we just not be ok for once? Why does society need to take pain away and make it some transformational learning experience?
I think grief is a very broad topic and I to agree it’s very common in everyday life . It’s not appropriate to compare grief as they are all individual experiences and the fact that you minimized your pain based on this gentlemen’s experience with torture is not fair to you , as I feel you minimized your grief .
This article tries to make us feel like we should learn from our losses but I think it’s not always available to just breath in pain and breath out peace.
Very grateful for these insights into grief.
I agree with most of this article but I do not agree with what is said in the video about anger. All emotions can be accepted and transcended. Anger too. I believe the Buddhists in general are mistaken on anger. In fact I believe that anything can be good or bad depending on how we see it and what we do with it.
I lost my lover and friend 16 years ago at Easter time. Profound is the only word that expresses my experience. I hope that this article reaches all out there that need it. Very very helpful! Aloha
Its really beautiful … Thank you for paving the way to transformation …
When you think about it, that’s got to be the right answer.
Do you believe the ACLU is a great deednfer of human rights or has it become just another “club” with a hidden radical leftist agenda that is visible for those who want to see it or something in between trending towards the latter?