As someone who writes and teaches about relationships, I get to witness the power and beauty of love in all of its forms. I have experienced it profoundly in my own life. I counsel it and help people to find, nurture, and repair it. Loving is one of the most amazing experiences that we have in our lives. If you take a moment to think of the people you love in your life, you will be instantly filled with appreciation, happiness, even joy. It is the energy that makes us who we are and who we want to be and the only hazard that comes as a result of loving as deeply and as fully as we are able to, is the pain that arrives when we lose it. This pain is known as grief.
Grief is intense and powerful. There is no feeling quite as overwhelming as grief. It can literally take your breath away. It stops us right in our tracks and changes the landscape of our lives. Interestingly, the power of our grief is almost always in direct relation to how powerfully we loved. Three years ago, I lost two of the most significant people in my life, people who greatly impacted who I am. This got me thinking about how we experience grief, and if by a small shift in perspective, we could change that experience. First and foremost, it made me have tremendous gratitude and appreciation for having them be such integral parts of my life in the first place. I feel blessed.
What if you could see the grief you feel as the evidence of your incredible capacity to love?
What if the deep feelings of loss remind you of how precious your life and everyone in it really is?
What if the pain you feel could be alchemized into an even greater ability to be present, to transform, and to live life fully?
These questions are not meant to diminish the weight of grief or those we grieve. When we lose someone close to us, that pain is immeasurable and even if we have certainty that the soul lives on, it in no way mitigates the intensity of our grief. It would be impossible – not to mention completely unnatural – to not notice, or pretend to not notice, the physical loss of someone we love. In this way, grieving is an important and vital part of healing. However, if our grief overtakes us we’ll get stuck in the pain and forget about the healing.
Seeking a greater understanding of our grief can help us to heal. It can propel us to a renewed dedication to life, a life of deeper gratitude, elevated consciousness, and greater kindness. Now, something that once brought us only heartache and suffering, can be something that brings transformation on the most sacred of levels. Put simply, whenever grief arrives, in whatever form it takes, we are given two choices. We can become defined by our grief and all the emotions that it inspires like anger and fear, or we can grow from it. We can allow our loss to change us.
An interview with Mo Gawdat, Chief Business Officer at Google and author of the book Solve for Happy, recently went viral in a 2-min video. In the video, he introduces his “Algorithm for Happiness” and describes happiness as being less “about what life gives us and more about how we feel about what life gives us.” This hypothesis was put to the test in a monumental way in his own life when his 21-year-old son died suddenly in what should have have been a routine operation.
Though his work is around happiness, it was borne of his grief. In the video, he describes being hit with one question “What can I do now to bring him back?” He goes on to say that “nothing I could have ever done, including locking myself in a room and crying for the rest of my life could bring him back.” He realized that he had two choices: be defined by his grief or create a new set-point.
If he could get his son back he would have a boundless desire to create a life of joy and opportunity for him. Since he can’t, he made a vow to do for the rest of his family what he wished he could do for his son. He set an intention to make each day a little bit better, easier, and more joyful for the rest of his life.
Grief may say “my life is over” but it is up to us whether that becomes true or not. It is up to us how we decide to feel about our loss. It is up to us to decide how we want to ultimately experience our grief.
There is a passage in The Zohar that states that the Shechinah, the female aspect of the Light of the Creator which is the part that we are meant to maintain a constant connection to in our lives, does not rest where there is defect, but only in a place where there is wholeness. It can not rest in a place where lack exists, nor where grief is present, but only in a place of correctness and joy. It gives the example of Jacob being separated from his son, Joseph after he was sold as a slave in Egypt. All the years that Jacob was apart from his son, he was in grief. Therefore, all of those years the Shechinah did not rest upon him.
Not even Jacob, the great spiritual giant, could live in the Light while he lived in grief. This is similar to the story of Mo Gawdat’s experience with losing his son, as well. However, the moment that Gawdat realized he had a choice, an opening was created. An opening that allowed for happiness.
When we’re grieving a recent loss, we don’t want to feel better. Think back to a difficult time you experienced or that a friend experienced. Can you remember the resistance you felt to being cheered up? Can you recall your friend or loved one pushing back against your attempts to help them to feel even a little bit better? The reason behind this resistance, in the simplest forms, is because letting go is the real end. But also sometimes we hold on because we don’t feel it’s fair that they are gone. We fight accepting it.
Grieving is a necessary and healthy process and it takes time to process a loss. In fact, many traditions have specific grieving processes, such as the Jewish tradition of sitting shivah. Perhaps this is why it took me this long to write this blog.
It is an important and vital process, but we aren’t meant to grieve forever. In order to bring ourselves back to the Light, we have to let go of the sadness. Just as Mo Gawdat realized, holding the grief doesn’t bring anything or anyone back to our life, it only keeps us from moving forward.
Whether grief is a part of your life today or you are supporting someone through their grief, remember that there is always a choice in every moment. Though you may take umbrage at someone’s urging to “let it go” or to “experience the joy of today”, try to see this as truly sound advice. Blessings cannot rest in a place of sadness. Even if it is as simple as acknowledging that you have a choice, you will be creating a space for the joy that you so deeply deserve.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Think of a loss you’ve experienced in the past. Does that loss linger in any way that holds you back? Because of a loss did you discover anything about yourself, a strength perhaps or a renewed appreciation?