A friend of mine was going through the painful ending of a relationship. She was a wise woman. She told me then," If I keep my heart open, I am going to come out of this sad situation a much more caring person. I feel that the pain is transforming me daily. Actually I am becoming, through my tears, more of myself, not less; more of a spiritual person in the sense of compassion and empathy with others who suffer--all others! I pray I will remain faithful to this new vision of myself that is emerging in me."
I know for myself that the experiences of loss and grief have taken me further in consciousness and the ability to empathize with others than I ever imagined it to be possible. Through my mourning, I discovered unknown parts of myself. I came to know the truth about myself at much deeper levels. My place in the world became clearer. I can truly say, looking back, that every grief that visited me sharpened my life's calling and expanded my longing to serve. My passion for life grew, and so did my sense of solidarity with those who are unjustly afflicted by oppressive structures and situations. Fortunately, I had coaches, mentors and good friends who continuously encouraged me to keep my heart open and to listen to what my heart was speaking to me. The alternative would have been devastating. I was blessed to find grace and revelations through grief.
We are constantly rebirthing ourselves into a more loving, more compassionate and more giving version of ourselves. Most often the process of rebirth is difficult and painstaking. It usually involves a loss of a job or a relationship, a sickness or a traumatic event that prod us to shed some old skin and grow a new one. Pain, however undesirable, can widen our worldview and expand our vision. We come to recognize how our presence in the world is intrinsically linked to others. We learn how important it is for us to get engaged in issues that matter to the well- being of others, be it of global peace, ecological sustainability or social justice. If we remain attentive to the movements happening in our heart, pain can result in rich blessings.
Loss is always a painful, often a shattering experience. It is to no avail to deny the difficulty of the visitation of grief. Actually the more we deny our grief the more susceptible we become to bouts of severe melancholy and even depression. Grief needs to be addressed consciously and felt at a heart level. Only then will it wield its soul making gifts. That is why it is so crucial to treat our grief as a very important and life- forming experience and to be very loving, patient and nurturing to ourselves through such demanding (albeit very pregnant) times.
When grief is denied, it can numb our heart, hindering our ability to express love and feel our passion. We are always faced with intentional choices when we experience grief in our life: do we deny it or do we acknowledge it to ourselves and to significant others?
Do we allow grief to take us into despair or do we let grief become the womb of a passionate calling to serve and to access higher levels of creativity? The answers to these questions will determine how we fare in times of grief, and if we come to grow psychologically and spiritually in our times of grieving.
The psychological truth about grief--however painstaking it is--is that grief opens our hearts and frees us from some of the rigid belief and opinions we held on to previously. This is not to say that it is the reason we experience loss. Rather it is to affirm that the end result of grief can be very liberating if we allow our heart's vision to expand through the process and if we let grief lead us to a richer way of comprehending the world and our place in it.
The spiritual truth about grief is that it is an experience that can connect us even more profoundly with the source of life--however we define that ultimate source--depending on our religious or philosophical beliefs. Grief can also, when looked at spiritually, expand our sense of belonging and union with the world. We come to see clearer our mission and purpose in service of the world. We become even more so, agents of peace, reconciliation and justice-making. Thus the feeling of sadness is an essential part of our human make-up and is not to be feared. Sadness, when separated from the temptation of despair, is very rich spiritually and is the gateway to a meaningful calling.
In summary, when experienced from an open and receptive heart, grief will generate vision. The inner deconstruction we experience during the time of grief will widen our hearts, allowing us to receive a clearer message around our calling to love and serve. Our heartbreak is the sacred space where greater revelations regarding our destiny are perceived and acquired.
Another friend of mine, whom I will call Rita, was visited with cancer. She was a very active woman and highly involved in sports and outdoor adventures. She was remunerated well in her job and could afford plenty of traveling to enjoy hiking and bicycling. She, by her own admission, did not think much beyond the immediacy of her own life and that of her circle of friends. When cancer struck, she was immobilized for a long time, having to significantly reduce her activities and spend most of her time healing and recuperating her energies. She was greatly aggrieved by her situation. However, as she spent time lying in bed reflecting on life, she gradually came to realizations that changed her perception of the world and herself. She would say that, although the pain was quite difficult at times and the loss of freedom demanding, the time of loss and grief will always be remembered by her as a time of grace. Through the time that her sickness made available for her, she thought expansively on the fate of others going through challenges like herself or greater than herself. Rita found a great passion was budding in her. She wanted to become a physical coach for children who, for reasons of health or poverty, were deprived of the possibility to develop their physical abilities. She discovered in the winter of her loss an avocation of service; one that today she calls the gem of her life!
Four very important thoughts to help you generate, out of your grief, a vision of service:
Recognize that your pain is both individual and collective. Although your loss is personal, it is never limited to you alone. Myriads of others suffer from the same kind of wounding you had to go through. We are individuals but we are also never disconnected from the world in its suffering, hopes and aspirations.
Maintain a healthy paradoxical attitude in your grief: loss is a very painful experience AND is also the source of many life-changing gifts. Keep on reminding yourself of the fact that, although your losses have deprived you, they will also gift you and others immensely in the end. Keep that faith. The seeds of spring are sown in the darkest times of winter.
Always remember that your heartbreak will increase your ability to love, and will guide you to serve and make a difference in the world for greater peace, solidarity and justice. Flowers can grow through the hardest terrains. We learn through life's passages to love more deeply and love all. The world and the earth need us to become passionate agents of love in action.
Remember that if you listen intuitively to your heart, you will come to know your calling.
There is no need for elaborate analysis. Relax in your intuitive ability to know. You will be inwardly led step by step.
Co-Author of 7-Step Model of Heart-Centered Grief
Christian Saade of The Respite: A Centre for Grief & Hope worked as a licensed psychotherapist in private practice specializing in grief, depression and life calling. He is now teaching and writing. He has lead over 200 psychological and spiritual retreats and also continues to serve as a spiritual Coach for individuals, couples and groups. Saade, along with Respite co-founder Mandy Eppley, has been speaking about creating a tangible process with practical tools that validates grief and provides support through it. Through this shared passion, they created this 7-Step process, The Model of Heart-Centered Grief, available through DVD and online streaming.
Through the program, which is currently available on DVD and through streaming access on a donation-only basis, they encourage individuals through their uniquely designed series of personal coaching sessions to embrace this process as an opportunity for personal growth and exploration.
7-Step Model of Heart-Centered Grief
by Mandy Eppley and Chris Saade