The Pale Thin Light: Looking Forward after a Loss

Monday, January 16, 2012

As I shared last week, there was a recent death in my family. As a result, I've been struggling to process the event while still keeping myself on a regular schedule, spending time with people as they return to campus, and getting ready for the new classes that started today. In some ways, the regularity and the busy school atmosphere are helping me to take my mind off of the loss, but it's definitely going to take some time to come to terms with. The thought regularly crosses my mind that this is not the worst of it - the hardest part will be returning to Bangladesh and knowing that that person will no longer be there.

But, while I find it very important to keep that in mind, I believe that its not the sole thought that should take over my spirit throughout these tough times. As a result, I have been thinking of ways that I hope to buoy myself up and work forward from this loss, and I hope to share them with you. Loss can appear in many forms other than death - small and large, there are many life events that can feel as if they will shatter our spirits and hold us hostage. All we can do in those times is to turn inward and keep our attention on the light that comes from within us, even when it feels as if that light has only a weak glow to offer.

Ultimately, I think that sitting with your emotions is the most fundamental (and often overlooked) aspect of loss. Especially in the United States, any emotional upset is treated as something to be cured rather than experienced and lived out. We feel we need to get back to work or apologize for making other people feel down or keep our strong emotions to ourselves and our private moments. Individualistic societies tend to work on the assumption that one has all the capacity to take care of themselves, regardless of the situation. Yet, while this may be a popular assumption, it is patently untrue. Feeling our emotions through gives a sense of closure to the event and encouraging others that it's ok to have strong feelings makes it easier to pass through those challenging times with support and love.

Often my emotions overrun my rationality when I am meditating. The tiny moments I give to myself are the ones in which I feel the strongest and gain the most strength. That time for care, the second vital aspect of dealing with loss, runs counter to the destination mentality that I've previously written about. Time passes at its own pace although we often wish it would run faster or slower. Taking a little extra here or there to check in is a valuable coping mechanism - it allows you to take stock of yourself and know whether the next task you take on will be too much or just enough to keep you going.

Finally, entertain all your ideas during this time. Think hard about them, question them, and draw them out to the fullest extent. Write them down as you go along. Sometimes we go in circles with our thoughts, especially ones that are related to time and loss, but actively participating and engaging them can help you learn about yourself in the process. I have been thinking a lot about perspective throughout this period of time, whether I have it and what will allow me to truly be happy in the future. I am slowly taking the advice that I heard from the Dalai Lama several years ago - "Whatever you do, be serious" and I encourage you to do the same.

I don't have to tell you that loss is easy for no person. But good life practices and self-awareness can ease the burden and allow you to grow from it if you pay attention. Take steps to be well.