There are times in our lives when the unexpected and undesired becomes our reality.
Times when things fall apart, moments when life seems to break, and our ability to keep it together weakens.
Something I notice in our modern culture is how unequipped we are at working with grief.
Whether it’s feeling the depths of personal loss or the sadness in the eyes of another, it seems we as a culture have lost the skill of navigating troubled waters.
We live in a culture that tells us to be independent, to be strong, to not rely on others. That to have needs, to fall apart, to not know what to do are all signs of being weak, and that being weak is shameful and very much not okay.
And yet, we live in human bodies that experience decline as much as they do health and vitality. Perhaps part of the gift of human experience is to participate in the cosmic joke—that as empowered, generative, and well put together as we may be, things can change in an instant and the fragility of our humanity can be quickly brought to focus.
Something we seem to forget is how grief, sadness, and tears are all natural parts of being human, just as much as joy, celebration, and ecstasy.
Unfortunately, our fast-paced, results-oriented society does not have space for these natural processes. The result is the despair and depression that so many find themselves shackled to. The abuse of pharmaceuticals and other addictions that all too often lead to spirits dimmed and lives less lived.
Humans grieve for all kinds of reasons.
Grief can feel heavy in the chest. A deep, everlasting feeling that not only are things not okay, but there is no way for them to ever be okay again. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the death of a dream, or the acceptance of our bodily limitations, at the core is a seed of sadness.
I believe it is crucial for our individual and collective wholeness that we recultivate a rich familiarity and peace with this sadness.
It begins with the question: How do we hold ourselves in these times of distress?
To me, feeling, allowing, and surrendering to my pain has been one of the hardest lessons. It requires reaching through my disappointment of situations and touches all of my frustration, loss, and unresolved longing.
It asks me to sit with an often overwhelming experience of helplessness.
Ironically, it isn’t this helplessness that causes us to fall hardest. It’s the shame and suffering we inflict upon ourselves for feeling like we couldn’t figure it out on our own. This often results in the heaviest burdens and shades our relationships and desire for connection and closeness with others.
When unprocessed grief and sadness are layered with shame and regret, how can any of us reach each other’s hearts?
For most of us, this leads to ways of coping. Whether through addiction, digital indulgence, gambling, overeating, or any number of temporary bandages that our modern culture offers, we find ways to manage and get by.
And yet, as I’ve grown and developed over the years, it has become increasingly apparent that my old ways of coping and avoiding wouldn’t work if I desired deeper partnership and intimacy with others.
While we can easily hide and isolate, authentic connection requires us to stand in the truth of our experience and to reveal not only our light, but also our shadow to those who choose to be with us in partnership and community.
I believe facing grief, and other strong emotions, are all part of being a spiritual warrior.
At this point in my life, with the awareness of personal ownership and a desire for deeper connection as my guiding stars, I see that finding ways to process difficult and gritty emotions is not only my responsibility, but it’s what allows me to step fully on the path of empowerment and freedom.
This isn’t easy. It requires honesty and self-awareness while cultivating a heart that is willing to break for the sake of something new, and often lots and lots of tissues. But it’s worth it.
It is only when we decide to avoid the process, to soldier on, to not give our bodies, emotions, and spirit the space they need to shift, shudder, and stretch that we find ourselves lost and stuck in grief and pain.
For as much as we desire meaningful purpose and connection with the world and our loved ones, the level of closeness in which we know our tender hearts is all we are able to offer to others.
Like a caterpillar that folds inward and through many internal twists and turns becomes something new, so can we choose to allow the process of loss and grief to change us, for the better.