CH. 6: THE GREAT AWAKENING: Finding Redemption Through Natural Grieving

Anonymous Awakening

What would it mean to really take grieving onto our path as a constant companion? Would it make us gloomy and foreboding? That’s the fear. But the reality is that with active grieving as part of our daily life, we stop taking things for granted, and begin appreciating the miracle of existence. Grief has a lot to do with appropriate gratitude, seeing things as they really are, and the natural law of compensation.

Everything we gain comes from loss. Most of our successes are built on failure, and every gift we receive from this living universe leaves a hole in its interpenetrating, interdependent, interconnected fabric somewhere else. Just think about where the clothes you have on right now come from, or the food that you are currently digesting. Once we adopt this balanced view of give-and-take, this realistic view of impermanence and incremental loss, then the ‘grief of being alive’ completes our love of life and for others. 

The flip side of grief is our capacity for giving praise. Going through each day praising this miracle of life, appreciating all the causes and conditions that have to continually come together and fall apart just for us to continue living, looking deeply at the suffering in the world by which we ourselves profit, and reminding ourselves that literally hundreds of species are going extinct today because of the burgeoning human population. All of this roots out the ingrained feelings of entitlement we have been conditioned with our whole lives here in the West, and replaces them with attitudes of gratitude, appreciation, awe, and wonder.

Can you begin to see grief in a positive light now?

Grief + Praise = Love of Life.

We have all this repressed grief stored up in our body, the unbearable tension of implicit memory of losing our toehold in life, and so when it finally comes it hits us like a tsunami wave. The great Indian pandit Shantideva put it like this:

Don’t you see how one by one/ Death comes to claim your fellow man?And yet you slumber on so soundly/ Like a buffalo beside its butcher.

Contrast this experience of living with that of a cancer survivor. These people know intimately the value on living that comes with the knowledge of mortality, don’t they? 

Life as we know it is ending. We are day-by-day losing the rich diversity of fish and animals and reptiles and birds and insects and plants that was our inheritance. These are real and profound losses. If you are not deeply saddened by this ongoing unraveling of the web of life, then you are as if already dead. Let’s stop running away from all this. There is no escape.

Instead – let us own it. Let’s start courageously grieving these losses today and everyday (or so) for the rest of our days on Earth.

The other side of grieving is loving. The more we grow in our practice of actively grieving those aspects of the natural world we are losing, the greater our affinity becomes with the natural world we still inhabit. Which is why it is so important to balance out our grieving these losses with practices of enjoying the bounty we have gained through healthy processing our natural depression – such as gardening, nature walks, stargazing, poetry, or simply sitting on earth under a particular tree in our immediate environment. These two kinds of practice go hand-in-hand, keep us in balance, and help restore human nature at the deep level of collective psyche – where we reconnect with the world soul. 

We are redeemed by grief, recovering our lost sense of what it means to be human. We cannot help but feel increasingly connected to the natural world once we begin actively grieving what is happening within it. And there is solace there.

It is like planting our psyche in the Earth. We sink our roots deep down into her fertile soil, we reach way up into the sheltering sky, we grow strong, and in time we bear fruit.

Once we begin to open our hearts to the suffering of all sentient beings – not just humans and pets – once we begin to see the connections between our diet and the devastation that is happening beneath the ocean’s waves and to the planets lungs (rain forests) and even on our own public lands, then quite naturally we do what we can to alleviate the suffering in the world, without anyone browbeating us. 

And in all of this, we begin to become citizens of the world again, rather than just culturally conditioned consumer clones waiting to be exploited by omnipresent corporate media. We are no longer just thinking of ourselves, but thinking and feeling for ourselves, and about our relations to all that is ‘other’ –  awakening to a more sentient existence. We are living and loving and grieving in the world, and the tears are balanced out by our increased capacity for joy, a larger sense of connection and meaning, and ever-widening spheres of compassion. As the Indian guru and sanysassin Satyananda Saraswat said:

“Transformation comes not from discussing our problems and looking for alleged culprits. Transformation is only possible if a critical mass of people make the leap from unconsciousness to awareness. If we – you and me – ask ourselves what part we are playing in any present problem.”

What part will you play?

(c) 2015 Zhiwa Woodbury: No reproduction of this and related pieces without express authorization from the author

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