The Reality of Hurt and Grief

Going Up in Italy

I thought I might be following up yesterday’s post with some personal thoughts regarding the global events of the last couple weeks.  Today, though, is not the day for that.  Those thoughts will continue to simmer for me, at the back of the stove.  Instead, I want to spend a little time discussing something that eventually affects each one of us—personal loss.

Of course, there is a significant connection, certainly, with personal loss and the attacks that have occurred around the world.  Let’s recognize that every loss is intimate for each person’s loved ones.  And, I think it is critical to see and remember the tenderness and heartbreak that come from each and every one of these losses.

But, what do we do, and how do we manage ourselves, when we lose a loved one; or someone we care about loses a loved one?  This isn’t just a hypothetical question for me.  In the last couple weeks, people I love have lost people dear to them.  I ask myself what we often ask ourselves—how do I show up; how do I best support the people I care about?

And maybe a more fundamental question—what do we do with the hurt and grief that come up?  For ourselves, as well as when we see our loved ones hurting and grieving.

So, I went to the woods today—to commune with nature; to sift through my thoughts and beliefs about loss; to allow the rhythm and exercise of my hike to distill my thoughts down to what feels most true.  I returned to the Appalachian Trail, to a section I last hiked over twenty years ago.  As I was recently discussing with my friend Shane, an AT thru-hiker; there was something magical about the clarity gained through the solitude and effort of hiking our hikes.  So, I returned to the AT for insight and answers.

And, here’s what I received…I realized that a part of my struggle was born from the belief that as I practice mindfulness, I would ultimately achieve enlightenment.  This I interpreted as a freedom from attachment, and a permanent release from suffering.

Spoken like a guy who still has attachments—even an attachment to the goal of enlightenment and freedom from attachment.  Ha!

While I was out there, I remembered a story about a person who practiced meditation for many years, but was quite frustrated because of her lack of success in achieving enlightenment.  She finally headed to the mountains to seek out a mountain monk who was known to have achieved enlightenment.  She came upon the monk heading down the mountain, carrying a very heavy load.  She asked the monk to tell her about enlightenment.  He didn’t say a word, but he put down the heavy load he was carrying, and stood up straight.  She nodded and said she understood.  Then, she asked him what came after enlightenment.  Again, saying nothing, he simply picked up his load again, and continued down the mountain.

Part of my challenge to accept What Is…Reality…Always Change…is to also accept the emotions that I feel, or that anyone feels, within this Reality.

Because, when I miss someone; when I’m sad and grieving, or angry, or sentimental; it is simply where I am at that moment.  And, while it may be helpful to consider the connection between the thoughts I’m having and the emotions I’m experiencing; it is never helpful to condemn myself for experiencing those emotions.

Likewise with loved ones.  While we may experience moments of enlightenment that feel like we’ve shrugged off the load that we usually carry, the reality is that most times we are hauling that load.  We are weighed down by things.  Even wonderful things, like the love and bond we feel with others.  And, when we feel like we’ve lost someone; like we’ve lost that love and that bond; it hurts.

We are complicated beings.  We weave intricate lives with many threads, and it all ends up weighing an awful lot.  There’s nothing wrong with the weight we carry.  And, we’re not supposed to just drop it for good.  We carry our loads—it makes us who we are.  It helps us understand each other, hold each other with compassion.

Hurt and grief can be heavy.  But, I recognize it’s what we hold onto when we lose someone we love.  It’s worth carrying that load for a while.

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