To paraphrase the spiritual teacher Adyashanti:
“Grief is the loss of your dream of a future
that wasn’t going to happen anyway.”
These are very profound words about something so deeply human universal, something we have all experienced, and may well experience again, if we are not yet numb to life.
When a loved one leaves you, or an unexpected diagnosis comes, or a relationship ends, or we experience some kind of deep shock or loss, we can be ‘rudely awakened’ from our slumber, shaken by that dear old familiar friend, grief. “This was not in the plan!”, we think to ourselves. It feels like life has gone ‘wrong’ somehow, that the universe has been knocked off course, that “my life” is perhaps over and recovery is impossible.
But what has really happened, friends, but the loss of a dream? What has really died, but our seemingly-solid plans for the future? We dreamt of walking off into the sunset with each other, we dreamt of all the things we were going to do together, all the fun we were going to have, all the things we would accomplish. We were living for so long with those dreams, those plans, those expectations, that we forgot they were only our dreams we were holding onto, and we took them to be the reality of “my life”. Now that the dream has crumbled, what is left?
But these movie-futures were “never going to happen anyway”. It’s not that our plans were going to come true, and then they were ruined by our incompetence or bad luck, it’s that they were never going to happen anyway. (Why? Because they didn’t. That’s reality, however much we would like to argue with it.) That is a huge difference. That is the difference between despair and deep suffering, and total liberation. It’s the difference between the irreversible loss of something that was “mine”, and the realisation that what was “mine” was never mine at all.
Going deeper, we see that in the experience of loss, our own identity that is being threatened. When ‘father’ dies, what happens to my identity as ‘son’? When ‘girlfriend’ leaves me, and I have been identified as ‘boyfriend’ for so long, who the hell am I? When the diagnosis seems to stop me from being ‘athlete’ or ‘doctor’ or ‘singer’ or even ‘seeker’, and that’s all I’ve ever known myself as, it’s like a death. The death of the image of myself. We are literally grieving over our own lost identities, lost images. It feels like we are grieving over something or someone ‘out there’, but really, the death is much closer and more intimate.
And life’s invitation is this: Stay with that internal death. Stay with the mess, as I often say. Do not make a single movement away from present experience. There may be gold hidden there, and you will never know if you try to move away. Stay close to the grief, to the universal pain of loss, so that it doesn’t solidify into bitterness and depression, into a belief about how terrible the world is, how cruel life is, into a heavy story about “my horrible loss” that you carry around with you for the rest of your days. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Life itself is not cruel, for life is All. It is the loss of our dreams that feels ‘cruel’ at first. But contained within that loss is a secret invitation – to wake up from all dreams. To see the inherent perfection in all things, in all movements of life, not as a concept or fluffy belief, but as a living reality. To see that life itself never really goes wrong, for there is no goal to miss, and that even the intense grief that we feel is a movement of love, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. It is because we love life and each so much that we feel everything so intensely. And we are vast enough to contain it all – the bliss and the pain, the joy and the grief, the plans and the destruction of those plans. Who we are is not broken, who we are is never lost, only our dreams, only our innocent hopes.
And so every loss is a little invitation to wake up, to let go of those dreams that were never going to work out anyway, and to see life as it actually is. It feels like suffering and depression at first, but it is really a kind of cosmic compassion the likes of which the mind has no hope of understanding.
Right at the heart of every experience of loss is the joy of letting go. It’s a case of knowing where to look.