We all want to see love transform the world but we often forget 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. Many of us cope by projecting grief onto others as anger or letting it overcome us with helplessness and sorrow, or just plain distracting ourselves from it altogether in hopes that it will go away. Embracing it for what it is may be the last thing we consider but it may be the very best way to transform it into compassion, peace, and personal power.
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 it’s ability to shape our lives.
Grief as a Teacher? Just the simple mental switch of considering grief as a teacher can be profound in helping us embrace it, move through it, and learn from it. 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 (video below). I compared my minor struggles with his, reflecting on all of the things I have moped and complained about in my life. Seeing his triumph I realized that it was time for me to learn some new coping skills.
Grief is Gender-Specific? As a man, I love having a cultural story that makes crying okay. So many of us grow up stuffing tears coz “boys don’t cry”. That repressed emotion can make us sick, it can also cause us to act out in anger, or redirect it onto others in unhealthy ways. In having this conversation with my female friends I have learned that it is different for women, who are taught not to show anger. For them crying is easy but expressing rage in a constructive way is not. So perhaps us men can hold space for women’s rage and also allow them to hold us when we cry?
Tonglen Compassion Practice: 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 life choices based on how to avoid the most possible grief. I became aware of how fear of grief had been ruling my life and I started to see how it ruled the lives of others around me.
Is the pursuit of happiness synonymous with fleeing from grief?
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. By connecting it with the breath it also keeps us equally feeling our peace and our grief in a balanced way.
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 for us humans.
Mayan Recipe for Dealing with the Blues: 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.
From the Personal to the Global: We can not expect nations or systems of government to act compassionately until enough individuals are able to embody it. This is why individual compassion practices and community support networks are so powerful. If society is wishing to cast away so many outdated, abusive, unhealthy ways of being we will need to learn how to hold space for grief because grief is part of the letting go process.
Many Options, Many Tools, Many Practices: There are many traditions in cultures around the world for turning grief into compassion and personal power. Another great example is the Hawaiian practice of Ho’Oponopono. Even art and music, or time in nature can help us with this difficult journey into the shadow of our own humanity.
Visualize: How different would the world look if this understanding was part of our dominant story? What if we welcomed grief as a sign that we are growing and letting go of what no longer serves us? I have come to see the process of releasing grief as synonymous with finding peace, becoming empowered, and experiencing happiness. Though I don’t always like it when grief comes knocking at my door, I have learned to welcome it in along with the gifts it has to offer.
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 our eternal soul. This is the kind of wisdom that might only come from an individual who turned years of torture in a Chinese internment camp into love, compassion and personal power.
How can we show up for ourselves better? How can we show up better for the ones we love and for our communities? I believe that forming a better relationship with our own grief is a central part of improving our connection with self and others. It may be the most effective way to transform it into compassion, peace, and power.