Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Losing a loved one

This is an excerpt from an interview with Adyashanti by Sy Safransky in the December issue of The Sun.

Safransky: One of your talks on your website is titled “Gift for a Dying Friend.” You make a distinction between expressing our love for someone who’s dying and showing our attachment to them. Is there anything else you would say to someone facing the loss of a loved one?

Adyashanti: Usually, when I meet someone who’s in that situation, they’re trying not to grieve. Maybe they’re trying to transcend grief, or maybe they’re afraid of the enormity of it. So I often encourage them to open to the grief, and I let them know that grief is not unenlightened. It’s a natural way for our systems to cleanse themselves of painful emotions. It’s true we can get stuck in grief. We can become fixated in grief. But more often I find that people don’t open fully to it. When they finally do, what comes up is a tremendous sense of well-being. I don’t mean the grief goes away, but there’s grief and a smile at the same time. It’s just like true love. True love is not all bliss. As my teacher said, true love is bittersweet, like dark chocolate. It almost hurts a little bit. Ultimately all emotions contain their opposite.

When people are in the midst of grief, sometimes, if I think they’re ready for it, I’ll encourage them to think about what’s happened to their loved one: They’re gone. Everything you know about them is gone. Their appearance is gone. Their body is gone. Their mind is gone. Their persona is gone. There is nothing to relate to anymore. It’s all gone. Now, is there anything left? That’s the actual truth of them: what’s still there after a person is gone.

Years ago a woman wrote to me and said her mother was dying of Alzheimer’s, and it was tearing her up. The mother she knew wasn’t there anymore. I wrote her back and said, “Why don’t you sit down next to the bed where your mother is and just reflect on the fact that the person you knew is gone. Her mothering function is gone. The way she used to interact with you is gone. Her personality is gone. It’s all gone. Just sit there for a moment and allow all that to be gone, and see if there’s not anything else. Maybe that wasn’t all there was to your mother.” The woman wrote me back about a week later and said she’d sat next to her mother and let her disappear and thought, Is there anything left? All of a sudden, she knew there was an amazing presence that only took the form of her mother. And she knew that’s what her mother was; that’s what she’d always been. It brought this woman great relief. Then she took it to the next level and thought, If that’s what my mom is, I wonder about me. And she found she wasn’t the person she’d been pretending to be. She was the same presence.

Death is like that: it takes away appearances. It’s OK to grieve the loss of appearances, but it helps to recognize the presence that’s beyond those appearances.

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