grief and loss: surviving the storm - part II

“For raw gold to become an ornament of beauty not only requires it to go through intense fire but also the ability to tolerate the goldsmith’s hammer with immense patience.”

  • - An old adage


Whether or not you are a spiritual person, you recognize that there are some things that are completely beyond your control. Events simply occur without any effort or provocation or even desire on your part. In fact, even when we believe we have control over an event, we simply cannot anticipate or foresee all that actually transpires. And when some situations occur that create a deep sense of loss and grief in us, we either surrender to it or struggle against it. This was the focus of our dialogue in part I of this blog.


Let’s look at the attributes of both surrender and struggle and decide for ourselves the path we want to follow to dissolve the feeling of loss and the ensuing grief that is hardly ever far behind.


Surrender, like the gold going through purifying fire, has three important qualities that are life-enhancing:


  1. Patience. Just like a farmer knows that a healthy crop will take time to emerge from the newly planted seeds, inner peace and joy will also require patience before they blossom after an event involving the loss of something or someone you value. And while the farmer waits, he is focused on making sure that the seeds receive adequate water and nutrients so that the resulting crop will be able to thrive. Similarly, your body and mind, where grief lives, will need care and support so it is ready to receive the joy that will eventually follow.

  2. Resilience. While the seeds are waiting to sprout with life above ground, there is always the danger that weeds might overrun them or pests may unleash their fury. The farmer needs to be steadfast in his resilient work to recognize this reality and stay focused on removing such obstacles from the ultimate goal of having a healthy crop. In the same manner, once you are stricken by loss, other events may try to overwhelm you and drown in more sorrow, self-pity, remorse, anger, guilt and other negative emotions. Staying resilient through those times requires that you stay focused on the light that always follows after the darkest hour.

  3. Hope. During the entire planting season there’s an infectious hope on the farm for a brighter future ahead. A future of plenty, of joy and of contentment. This emotion of hope is perhaps the most important to unleash a resilient attitude towards any obstacles that may threaten the end result. While Stoic philosophers may not agree with modern psychology, hope is a very important part of the human experience, as it provides fuel for hard labor to achieve what may appear to be impossible at first. If you fail, resilience must become your safety net to support you and to give you a new start.


Struggle, on the other hand, also has three attributes that, like a destructive fire, are life-diminishing:


  1. Urgency. Like the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. In the same manner joy will not arrive quickly after an event that creates a deep sense of loss and immense inner turmoil. It will take time for grief to settle and for happiness to emerge. However, when you are struggling against grief, you want the pain to be over now! You may drown yourself in self-pity and suffer endlessly as you see many others joyfully living their lives. You want to be just like them and it’s human nature to want something that you believe will bring you happiness. Waiting will only prolong the pain. Wanting the pain to end causes you to continue to focus on the pain itself, and you throw yourself into a vicious cycle of pain-pity-envy-desire-more pain. There is no shortcut out of it.

  2. Weakness. While struggle may make you feel strong and powerful -- the belief that you can fight this grief -- it will eventually deplete you completely. The reason for that is simple. The roots of loss and grief go deep into our psyche and they must be allowed to grow since they bring important lessons of life into our being. If you fight to uproot them, you will expend energy that will eventually exhaust you emotionally. The noise of the fight will constantly take away your ability to hear the silence that peace brings. In that silence, resides joy. Continue to struggle, and you will miss it completely - perhaps even ‘hit bottom.’ It is then that most people realize they have nowhere to go but to surrender. When the fight ends, the vessel of our mind empties itself so peace and joy can eventually fill it. That’s how nature works - it always fills the emptiness with life.

  3. Hopelessness. Struggling with and fighting against loss in an effort to gain control over the situation generally leads to only one result - more hopelessness. We begin to realize that despite our hardest efforts, the situation is not changing and we begin to wallow in self-pity. You become convinced that you will never experience positive emotions because life dealt you an unfair hand. The whirlpool of depression, deep sadness, anxiety, panic attacks become part of life, and you feel even more depleted and exhausted. In such a state, you lose sight of all the blessings life has bestowed upon you. Gratitude, humility, forgiveness and other positive emotions that bring immense peace and joy become concepts that are good only for self help books and wellness retreats. Darkness gets darker still with no end in sight.


Hence, paradoxically, surrender offers thriving while struggle leads to shrinking and even uprooting. If you are convinced enough to try surrendering to the sense of loss you may be experiencing, here are three simple ways to do that without surrendering your sense of self:


Recognize nature’s true nature

Take a walk in any forested land, a garden, on river banks, by the side of a lake or on the beach and observe how decay leads to renewal. Leaves that fall in the autumn, branches that fall due to the weight of the snow, sea shells that get churned into sand - all of them have a purpose. Leaves enrich the soil so that the tree can get stronger and sprout new growth during the spring that will eventually arrive after a cold winter; branches decay and support millions of organisms that promote soil nutrients for seeds to sprout and for roots to grow deeper; sand from sea shells harbors life below that is essential for the biodiversity of the oceans. Similarly, the loss we suffer is not a sign of depletion but a symbol of growth, love and renewal. Every loss enriches us silently in ways that nothing else can. Allow it. Surrender to it. That’s nature’s true nature.


Practice Socratic transformations

The power of the pen can be truly transformational in its ability to catalyze radical shifts in perspectives. Try using reflective writing or journaling using the Socratic Dialogue method - this requires you to pose deep questions and explore the assumptions, contradictions and perceptions in your answers. It is a powerful technique that was used by philosophers like Plato using Socrates as a character to develop thought provoking narratives and dialogues. Try it in the safety of your privacy. It may reveal a spark that has the potential to light the purifying fire so your gold-like spirit can turn into a beautiful ornament.


Try to be silent

The wise say that silence brings us messages of wisdom that no words can. It is in silence that we can hear the songs of the morning bird and the roar of thunder in the distance. Silence can be easily practiced by doing simple things - stop reading books, listening to radio, watching television, following social media, attending social events, responding to emails - for a little while. Give yourself the space for renewal. And in this silence, just be present to whatever is happening around you. Bask in the warmth of the sun; drench yourself in a cool rain shower; feel the breeze caress your face; sense the texture of things around you; savor the taste of food in your mouth; enjoy the peace a prayer may bring; sit or walk in a silent meditation - and then give thanks! Offer your gratitude to and for the simplest pleasures and your ability to enjoy them. Do it silently. Forget writing in your gratitude journal for a bit. Just be with yourself. Be with gratitude. Silently. Because...happiness lives here. Welcome home.


A humble disclaimer: I am neither a teacher nor a preacher. My human struggles are the same as yours. That’s the bond that connects all humanity. The wisdom of enlightened beings, stoic philosophers, poets, gurus has been with us for millennia. I am learning and growing with you. For this writing, I am a student in the role of a messenger.


About the author:

Arun Sardana is the founder of karuna, a social enterprise committed to making this world a happier place by empowering women, youth and children and, in the process, breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and abuse. Learn more at www.accesskaruna.com.


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Sanskrit: karuṇā (करणा) = the compassionate desire to remove suffering

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