Blog: Listening to Grief
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
Grief is an uncompromising teacher, but it can take you to depths within yourself and teach you things nothing else can. It is only when we sit down with grief and receive what it has to offer us that healing can begin.
One of the greatest teachings grief has to show us is that the world is not what we thought. This is important because we all have misconceptions about the nature of reality and about our agency in the world. It is common to become deluded about what is real and what is not real. Often people think they can avoid or control pain in an effort to create their own version of reality. In this case, delusion is the basis for suffering. It takes strong medicine to break through delusion, and grief offers this medicine by providing the opportunity to unravel our misconceptions about the nature of reality.
When you lose someone you believed you couldn’t live without, you get a glimpse of the true nature of the world. The first step in learning these lessons is to create enough space to experience the loss, and enough structure to deal with the grief. To do this, you need to understand that grief and loss are two separate things and require different antidotes.
Navigating loss requires deep inner spaciousness. You have to develop spaciousness to hold loss without letting it overwhelm you. Through a meditation practice like Samatha, you can begin to cultivate deep inner space where you can hold the magnitude of the loss without running from it. If you don’t create space internally, you’ll be overwhelmed by loss and miss the lessons it has to teach you.
Managing grief begins with the understanding that grief reactions are our own reactivity in response to being out of control. You have to look honestly at the ways you thought you could control reality, and all the reactions you have when you are not able to control it. This is harsh medicine too, but if you are not clear about your reactions, grief will live on forever and you’ll remain trapped in reactivity, and this reactivity will continue to generate pain.
The closer you are to someone you lose, the more difficult this self-exploration can be, but the lessons are deeper too. When we create inner spaciousness and stop resisting the pain that accompanies loss, it is possible to listen to grief and receive the teachings it brings. In time, the pain shifts and the lessons support us in our understanding of the world and help us develop an inner strength to meet events in our lives as they come, without controlling or looking away. When we are able to sit with grief in this way, and learn what is has to teach us, we can begin to cultivate a true sense of inner peace.
Editors’ note: At the Sacred Stream, Isa Gucciardi teaches two classes which offer support in navigating grief and loss: Grief and Loss and Worlds Beyond Death. You can also check out Isa’s talk, Buddhist Perspectives on Death, which she gave at the Reimagine End of Life Conference in Berkeley, CA.