“The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss…”
– Dean Koontz
Loss contains within itself a beautiful yet painful reminder of inseparability, and a hidden call to remember who you really are. Grief can shake you and wake you up and bring you face to face with a fundamental fact of existence that you will have to learn eventually anyway.
In the beginning, when someone you love dies, or leaves you, or is taken away – and the end of a relationship is very much like a death – you feel as though you’ve “lost” them. Your mother, you father, your partner, your guru, your pet, your child, they went away, perhaps never to return. You feel helpless, powerless, a victim of life’s cruel and irrational and unpredictable ways. You grieve over a missing person, an absent being, over the loss of the one who was separate from you. The pain can seem unbearable, unmanageable, insurmountable. You feel their absence so strongly and you can’t do anything about it. Their absence, and your impotence, is fully present.
Sinking deeper into the grief, you may discover that you haven’t actually lost something ‘outside’ of yourself at all. You’ve actually lost a PART of yourself, a part of you that made you feel fully yourself, and that’s why it hurts so much right now. You don’t feel fully yourself anymore. You feel broken, incomplete, like a fragment of “you” is missing, like a piece is missing from the jigsaw of your heart. How can you be fully you, without them? How can son be son without father? How can wife be wife without husband? How can I be I without you?
Sinking even deeper into the grief, you begin to wonder if, in fact, the part of yourself that you “lost” was really “you” at all. How can you truly lose a part of yourself? If you can lose a part of you, was it actually “you” in the first place? You begin to wonder who you really are, and who you really were, beyond your dream of yourself. You begin to wonder who they really were, beyond your idea of who they were. Is it really true that they were present, and now they are absent? Are they truly absent from your experience? What was actually lost? Can relationship truly be lost?
As we sink deeper through the layers of grief, we may discover a strange kind of inseparability from the one we thought we lost. What was lost was a dream of how things would be, a dream of the future. Who you truly are cannot be lost – it is still fully present, despite the changes. And who they truly are cannot be lost either, despite the cessation of the heartbeat. At the very bottom of grief, you find love, a total inseparability from your loved one, and a true meeting with the One who you cannot lose. Death cannot touch this. Their absence becomes their presence, which is your very own presence. In this timeless presence, who is lost?
At the bottom of grief, we find unconditional love, a love that is not even dependent on physical form. Grief contains its own end. And it doesn’t mean that we forget our loved ones. It doesn’t mean that we are not visited by them in memory and feeling. It doesn’t mean that sadness disappears overnight. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel all kinds of things. But we realise deeply that we have not lost anything fundamental to us, and the world has not stopped, and they are not truly “absent” in the way the mind thought they were. The pain of emptiness can become our joy. The ghost of loss no longer frightens us – it is a friendly ghost after all. We have only been given the experience of knowing our loved one, feeling them, touching them, smelling them, feeding them, holding them, even witnessing their passing. Life cannot take that away – it has only given, and it continues to give, if we have eyes to see it. Perhaps their life and death unfolded in the only way it could have done. Perhaps they lived the path that was right for them, even at the end. At the rock bottom of grief, we find deep connection, and humility, and not knowing, and gratitude, and compassion for all humanity, for all who have loved and lost. We encounter the unfathomable Mystery of it all.
In fully facing ourselves as we are, we discover all of humanity. Although in the beginning it seemed as if we were facing personal loss, in the end, grief can deeply connect us once again to something that cannot be lost, something impersonal and universally true. Grief is a tough teacher, to be sure, a relentless and seemingly cruel teacher, but it is compassionate at its core. The device of our torture becomes our salvation. Remember Jesus on the cross.
When faced, and not turned away from, our raw grief can serve as an ancient and timeless nondual spiritual teaching, a dynamic and alive teaching, a wake up call to that heartbreaking compassion for all of humanity the likes of which we once could have only dreamed. The impermanence of things is natural and neutral, and everything passes, and that in itself is not wrong or bad – it is the way, and has always been the way, and will always be the way. Loss is only a right of passage. It is when we forget the impermanence of things, and deny it, and we dream of permanence and fix our future, and our dreams are shattered by impermanence, that we suffer and fight the way of things. We all face loss, that is the way, but if we can turn towards our loss, and listen to it, and stare it in the face, then it may reveal hidden gold, and we may end up seeing ourselves and our loved ones reflected more clearly than ever. Grief is only love in a strange disguise, and it constantly invites us to come closer…