When someone we love dies, a process is initiated beyond our control and choosing, a process which will transform who we are and who we were about to become. Just as each birth and each death is unique, so each process of grief is also individually unique and hardly comparable to any other.
Such is the impact of a death on friends and family, that it is almost too clinical to label the resulting acceleration of transformation as a “process”. As such, this is a subject to be handled with great tenderness and care.
The four tasks in grief therapy
Classically, the grief process has been divided into four tasks of grief – which can happen in any order and simultaneously, continuing until a sense of peace is found. These include:
For those with a strong spiritual inclination, the tasks of grief are no less challenging. Regardless of beliefs or spiritual attainment, these tasks seem to broadly fit the basic human emotional and psychological processes in facing loss. However, precisely for these people, a sudden death of a loved one can add to the loss a significant breakage in belief systems together with an even deeper faith crisis revealing core issues with physical existence or with God, the absolute, or the universe.
Grief processes potently reveal the circulation of existence through form – a core circulation in inner growth and self-development. The cycle of coming into physical life, leading to physical manifestation, followed by a letting go and returning to source ready for the next cycle is part of every moment of human living.
Yet we have issues not only with the “death” or release/letting go stage, we also can come into difficulty with the agreement to move outwards again into manifestation. We think that death is our greatest fear, yet for many who suffer extreme loss, the greatest challenge is to go on living an anyway finite physical life without the loved one.
Grief and loss, even if it happened decades ago, always reveals a crack in our normal 'reality', This crack shines like a light to remind us of our mortality and the preciousness of life. As such, grief and loss does bring a silent gift: the opportunity for refining our spiritual awakening and integration of that light within all planes of life. As spirituality becomes more recognized by psychology, it could be worthwhile to add four spiritual tasks to support the spiritual practitioner in processes of grief and loss.
1. Feeling the feeling into reunion
Human emotion and feeling as it arises in pure form in our awareness is a natural part of the shock and grief of losing a loved one. There is a freeze in energy which creates quite a shield and can lead to long-term shut-down or depression. Some grief processes can be stalled like this – effecting all aspects of living – for decades.
Allowance of the feelings is the first stage, and spiritual practitioners can be of service to themselves be being loyal to the existential – to whatever is there in the here and now – without holding, defining, naming or repressing. Through allowing the existential, perception through awareness – the window of being through which we “feel” – becomes a carrier of love and peace. This means the pain of loss is experience and welcomed into the aware arms of inner love. This love meets the love frozen within the pain of grief. Pain is composed of love: if we did not love the other so much, the grief would not be so strong. In this remembering, the pain is able to loosen and return to its source which is the love for the one that is lost.
The same principle applies to anger or feelings of abandonment. These feelings are the energy of “home” – (a fine and intimate blend of love and peace) which emanates from around and below the navel. In meeting these feelings with the welcome of the inner home, by allowing that home to exist unconditionally, the transformation to source is simpler.
2. Wishing well for the loved one
As spiritual seekers, we live our lives committed to transformation and liberation. We learn through experience that to truly wish well for the other is to truly be of service to ourselves. We learn that the more we are able to let go of false identities and of the “person” that limits us, the more we become happy, fulfilled and free.
Yet, when someone near us die, the bottom falls out. Around us and within us, we try to find the form of the one that has passed – albeit “on the other side”. We picture them as they were, we hold onto the flavor of their love as we knew it, we hold onto the story of their life –beginning, middle and end.
Yet, if they were still alive in the form that we knew them, we would be wishing for them to be liberated! From our love, we would want them to be free from identification with the body; free from limiting patterns, and at one in seamless unity with the divine/existential absolute.
Did the reality of death make hypocrites of us?
It is a high task of grief to be able to truly wish the one that has passed to become free in seamless unity with the source of all existence – that is, to be truly free of form. This involves more than acceptance of the loss of the form of the loved one – and moves us into a passionate wishing for the highest transformation possible.
The secret in this is that just as the old Indian wisdom says “to find yourself, you must first lose yourself”, such a way of connecting to the loved on who passed over actually brings them more intimately and existentially close to the peace and love alive in our being.
3. Issues with existence
It is not only by divine grace that many of us became meditators and spiritual seekers. To be honest, it is because difficulties in living in this world as it is drove us inside for comfort, release and freedom. Those who have found a way to live here through “transcending” the world, or drinking deeply from the pools of cosmic unity in order to bring strength, might find that a significant part of a grief process involves the agreement to come back to life. For many there can be an emerging fatigue with the service of human life and even a hidden jealousy towards the loved one that has passed over at being “free” from the trials and challenges of physical existence.
These feelings can reflect deep issues with incarnation and even a long-term resistance towards truly accepting physical form. In other language, it can be anger with God or existence, trimmed with a sense of shame or guilt connected with a belief that physical life is a kind of fall from grace or punishment.
It is highly worthwhile to allow these feelings all the space is to emerge. Within them is the possibility of a deep passion and a deepening compassion which could bring enormous benefit to the world.
Outside of the workshops and the meditations, the rock-bottom reality of death, legacies, funerals and the sheer absence of the one that has passed over forces open the perceptive window of emptiness. Unmasked, the spirituality that has sustained us for so long can feel as if it lost its being, as if it has been exposed by a far more “real” truth at the basement of being.
We might have truly believed that “we are not the body”. Yet, when the body of one we love has broken down, we feel our imminent fragility in physical form. Within this deepening, a perception opens of our inherent helplessness together with the transience of all things. The body passes; the mind breaks down; the future we thought we had can collapse; our feelings and emotions change like waves in a turbulent sea. Even the way in which we perceive the world is suddenly purely subjective.
Within this, that which does not change can come forward with enormous strength. The existential “us” behind all perception – witnessing our thoughts, observing our feelings of pain and love, breathing with softness through our flesh and bones as we move through our lives – this existence is a constant. It is the source of our freedom and the source of our ability to be of service to others.
When we allow the awakened source of who we are to express unconditionally through whatever form is arising – be it sadness or joy – we become a source of light to others, if not now, then as an imprint for some distant time.
This has tremendous value. No-one is free of birth and death. We are all abandoned, bereaved and fragile in physical flesh. No one is exempt. This means that there is a tremendous opportunity of service in allowing ourselves to be fearless, vulnerable and open in every given moment.