I am back from teaching Mindfulness A-Z: Liberating Regret, Stuckness, and Perfectionism at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. One insight that arose during the week was that “grief is the admission price to the present moment.” We are often stuck because we are not ready to move through the strong emotion of grief. We procrastinate, distract, and delay all, perhaps, in an effort to avoid the pain of loss.
Life is a series of losses or what Mark Epstein calls the “trauma of everyday life” in his recent New York Times article and his forthcoming book. He says:
Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence. I like to say that if we are not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we are suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder. There is no way to be alive without being conscious of the potential for disaster. One way or another, death (and its cousins: old age, illness, accidents, separation and loss) hangs over all of us. Nobody is immune. Our world is unstable and unpredictable, and operates, to a great degree and despite incredible scientific advancement, outside our ability to control it.
Trauma is ubiquitous. We experience it every day throughout the day. Each trauma represents a little (or big) loss. If we don’t grieve each loss, they accumulate in our emotional psyche taking up space and obstructing the flow of energy. To grieve is to accept. To accept is to pay attention with openness. We need to know what has happened before we can process it. Acceptance requires a letting go; a revision of our previous agenda. The more tightly we cling to that old agenda the more we will suffer and the more we will defer the experience of grief. It is only through grief that we can reclaim the present moment.
But grief is a messy affair. There are tears, sharp emotions, feelings of deprivation. All of these must be navigated for us to be whole once again. The losses we reckon with grief do not have to diminish us even though they may take significant parts of us away (the loss does that, not the grief). Our losses make us imperfect yet wholeness remains an option (because wholeness does not have to be about what we have or don’t have).
Considered in this way, grief is a liberating factor. It helps us to move through the experiences of our lives to find ourselves living brilliantly in the moment.