I recently went to a 3-day workshop about grief. As a “happiness guy,” I was not looking forward to grieving for 3 days…but I figured it would be good for me. It was. In Western culture, we avoid grief. We distract ourselves from it, we belittle it, and we have few rituals or support for facing it and getting through it. Thus, I wanted to learn about it. One of the things I learned is that if we avoid or don’t have a safe place to express the grief that arises in our lives, it also shuts down our joy. When we fail to feel the sadness associated with the loss of a job, a relationship, or a friend, we begin to feel numb or lose hope. As we avoid certain emotions, our emotions stop “flowing.” This “stuck energy” can lead to us feeling depressed, tired, or even sick.
During the workshop, I focused on various losses in my life. It was hard for me to sit with these feelings. There were a lot of tears. Yet, I’m glad I did it. I left the workshop feeling like certain things that had been bothering me on a subconscious level are now behind me. Having faced these demons, I can now let go of them. I feel lighter, like my body has been cleansed by the process.
Life contains loss. Since our culture doesn’t have many rituals for honoring all the losses we go through, we need to make up these rituals on our own—or look to other cultural traditions. If you look at the word “spiritual,” it really consists of two words—“spirit” and “ritual.” I believe we have to create our own rituals for letting go of hopes, dreams, friendships and even mates that no longer are part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss, sadness, and grief? Do you avoid such things? Do you wallow in them? Neither of those options are very healthy. Ideally, our job is to recognize the losses we have suffered, feel them, and create a place and process where we can be able to let them go as best we can. There’s no one simple formula for doing this. Everyone grieves differently. Yet, the first step is to realize that part of being a human being is to understand there is a lot of loss everyone goes through. It is natural. Avoidance is not a successful “grief strategy.” Seeking professional help (counselors, therapists, even books about grief) can certainly be of help. Or perhaps you can create you own grief ritual.
One thing I’ve done since the workshop is to end each night by answering two simple questions. The first question is: “What am I sad about?” I allow myself to feel whatever arises, and to emotionally recognize and “digest” this feeling of loss. The second question I ask is, “What can I feel grateful for?” As I focus on this question and the people or situations I feel grateful for, it helps me to recognize that—despite life’s many pains, there is always something good going on.
Happiness arises when we can feel our full range of feelings without getting stuck in any of them. By allowing yourself to feel sadness and loss, you may well find yourself feeling more contentment and joy.