I love those moments in life when I’m really struggling with an issue, and then the perfect resource just drops into my lap as if by magic. And that’s what happened to me while I was thrashing through all the “stuff” that was triggered by the high school reunion. Into my email inbox popped this essay by Rachelle Mee-Chapman as part of a series she wrote on the idea of Devotion. This installment beautifully discusses those times when our practice of devotion involves tending to our places of grief, and I am thrilled that she agreed to be a guest author here on the blog.
Devoted To Grief
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about happiness, and contentedness, and how all the Great Sages say being singularly devoted to the moment is what brings both into your line of vision.
And I’ve been thinking about losses and how many times Grief asks for our attention.
The older you get, the more of those there areâ€“the losses. There are the big, culturally acknowledged ones. Deaths in family. Romances that go painfully sideways. Jobs that evaporate without a severance package. Saying goodbye to dogs.
These are the losses that we get at least a small chance to mourn socially â€” through memorials and tubs of ice cream; friends who take you out after work for drinks, and condolences on Facebook.
Then there is a legion of less obvious lossesâ€“all the things you always thought you’d get to, but which you now realize, maybe you won’t. Like singing on stage with a microphone and an audience. Learning modern dance. Writing a best seller. Marrying a guitar player.
Me, I am very aware lately of the losses that come in an accumulated life. When you’ve had to surrender large parts of decades to chronic illness, there are many, so many. They add up fast if you’ve spent a couple years to fighting cancer. They accumulate like packing boxes in the time-suck and upheaval that is moving again, and again, and again.
Even more prominently are the feelings of loss that come when you trying to make peace with the trade-offs that come with having children â€” especially if you are the stay-at-home parent, or the default parent. Yes, there is an undeniable joy and wonder in watching humans come to life. And….and this is tempered by the way raising children can dim your career, or curb your sex life, or impede your ability to become a master of your craft.
For years I tried to practice mindfulness and presence as a way of minimizing the pang of those losses. I thought if I just focused on the Privileged That it Is To Breathe This Breath, I would step into a vast field of gratitude and the grief would go away. Or if I could just be mindful How Amazing It Is That This Machine That I’m Loading Washes My Dishes, I would never regret the way the entropy of house and home impinged on my creative pursuits. I thought, if I could just see every moment as sacred, I would never have to feel loss.
I say we call bullshit on that right now.
Being singularly devoted to the task at hand is not designed to help you avoid grief. It doesn’t numb out loss with a bonus dose of gratitude. It doesn’t shine a light on you abundance so bright that you never notice lack. It turns the volume up on those positive things, yes. But the truth of practicing presence is this:
Devotion doesn’t insulate you from feeling your losses.
It asks you to be devoted to your grief in the moment you feel loss.
(spread the good word)
When we become committed to a life of devotion â€” to the task at hand, and the next, and the next â€” we become devoted to a life that feels it’s bruises. To a heart that beats as an ache in your chest. To tears that come at unexpected moments.
Listen friend, this is what I want us to whisper together:
Loss is also scared. So is grief. So is mourning.
It’s sacred because it is part of your actual life. It’s part of the essential experienced of being a living animal. There’s not a creature among us who gets through a lifespan without it. We might as well embrace it as holy.
This is the ebb and the flow of it, the hot and the cold of it, friends. You can be strolling around one day, grateful to be walking in the sunshine, and the next minute your heart can break with grief at the friend who no longer calls you. Or the way your job will never be as prestigious as it could have been if you didn’t share your time with infants. Or that the first-flush of romance doesn’t last. These things will arise behind your clavicle. They pool in the corner of your eye.
And this life we are building, this life of devotion, is asking you to be devoted to that too.
To feel grief when it comes to you.
To get curious about why it arrived.
To ask it if it needs anything.
Now this doesn’t mean you have to stay devoted to story of never-ending loss. It certainly isn’t asking you to camp out in victimhood. You don’t have to stay devoted to a narrative that says you’ll always be alone, or you’ll never do meaningful work, or that this stage of your relationship is not as real as the last. You can rewrite your story. You can see it from a new and hopeful angle.
But maybe not until you devote yourself to Grief for whatever length of time it wants to show up.
A flash mob. A long term tenant. Who can say? All I know is that resisting and ignoring it only makes it metastasize.
You might as well give your grief the devotion it deserves.
What about you friend?
Are you ready to be devoted to every moment, even the moments of loss?
Can you get curious about the pangs in your chest?
Will you ask your grief what it needs?
I think you are.
I know you can.
I hope you will.
Rachelle Mee-Chapman specializes in helping people create right-fit spiritual practices for themselves and their families.