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Patanjali Sokaris

Pondering the universe

Loss

When we suffer loss in our lives, we can have a sense of being in a tail-spin as we go through a range of emotions while we try to make sense of our life without who or what we've lost.

While there is no way of avoiding all the emotions that arise following a loss, this article provides a way of looking at loss that may help to move through those emotions more quickly, and so avoid unnecessarily prolonging your suffering, and approach the rest of your life with more hope.

If you are in the thick of the emotions racing through you, don't read any further, as it requires being in a frame of mind where you are ready to start looking at your emotions. Unless ready for that, this will all just sound like a whole bunch of useless platitudes. Be in your own space now. Other people will just have to accept that.

Grief is the process of letting your emotions catch up with reality.

Identity ^

Loss is a sense that something you believed was an essential part of you has gone. The depth of the loss is the amount of emotion you invested in that part.

After a loss, you will have a range of emotions arise, such as denial, grief, anger, depression and acceptance. You will need to work through the emotions to the depth, intensity and time required as a way of coming to terms with the loss. Excessively trying to avoid dealing with the emotions may stop you moving beyond them.

The core of the problem is that it was you that was identifying with what has been shown to you as not really being a part of you, because you still remain. In a way, the acceptance is about acknowledging that that part was not really you.

We identify with so much that is not really us, but things and roles that by habit we have adopted into the family of the self. They never were a part of the real self, but we believed for so long that they were, and the loss challenges that belief.

When you accept that what was lost was not really you, then there is no missing piece of the puzzle, as you now know that its loss was a part of the process of you learning about yourself. You have the opportunity to be more free and make new choices for your life.

None of this is to say that all that you experienced while holding onto the belief was not worthwhile, because what you experienced in the depths of that belief was real, and that has allowed you to experience thoughts, feelings and sense of accomplishment that you otherwise may not have done.

That belief was a leap of faith that began a chapter of your life that you would otherwise not have written.

Every part of the adopted family of the self has to eventually be let go of, which is why it is good to reflect/contemplate/meditate upon what is really you, before you are forced to part with it.

Each loss of what we believed was part of our identity forces us to learn to think and feel independently of what we do, to free us to be our true selves, and thus act according to its wishes.

In your living of the experience, the real you has been changed. The improved you will utilise the new parts, so find your new you's new agenda.

Look forwards, with the new eyes that you have, and see the past as what got you to here, and enabling you to see the new vision of what your life can be.

The past is always 'shoes that no longer fit' as you cannot go back to it, as it will feel retrograde, because you would be trying to negate what you have learned. But you don't necessarily have to be radically different, but be whatever feels the new natural.

A sense of bewilderment can come from the wider context to which you are trying to adapt. Identity helps us grow, but when we clutch onto that identity, we start to 'shrink'. A loss can highlight how much of the world we have blocked out.

Loss of career ^

Our careers can so envelop us that we may not be able to see ourselves doing anything else. We see them as part of who we are and what we do.

It used to be that the average public servant died two years after retirement, just because all that they knew about themselves was intimately tied to the one job that they had held all their lives. The greater incidence of job mobility has meant that people have learnt that they are not one particular job, but they are their career, a 'meta' job.

But employment revolutions teach us that we are not even our careers, so we need to cease seeing particular lines of work as part of ourselves.

Sometimes, we hold onto careers where we have learned what we needed to from them. We get given lots of hints to make changes, but if we ignore those because we are really attached to the role, it may be removed from our grasp. We have invested too much of our identity in it, and that continued indulgence was preventing us moving on to better things for ourselves.

When we can no longer do a job that we have identified with for so long, trying to find a living without that crutch can be daunting.

I think the key is transcendence, where, ideally, you perform roles, but are not attached to them. You live them, but know they are not you, so you can adjust them as required, or even abandon them, if their use has expired.

You may need to find a new vocation, but there may be many that, while not what you've been used to, use the same thinking and approach. Be open to them coming your way.

Life doesn't waste energy, and your past contains the building blocks for your future, framed by your current situation. Be prepared to stretch your thinking and you may be surprised at what opportunities are now available to you. Talk to a friend, mentor or vocational guidance counsellor who might be able to point out some skills you have that you might be discounting.

Loss of loved ones ^

Loss of a partner or children, through separation or death, can be most distressing, as we imagined the rest of our lives with them around. There are so many ties involved with having a family, which is why many can be so debilitated by such losses.

We put a lot of expectations upon ourselves and our families, by how we imagine life will proceed, and what the future will hold for the expanded us. That can put a lot of tension in the relationships, which can feed entrenchment in those expectations. That strengthens the investment in the family remaining as is.

Of course, with so many people involved, that can lead to stresses in the relationships, perhaps resulting in intransigent positions being adopted, which, if no means of easing the tensions is embarked upon, may lead to the breakdown of the principal relationship, resulting in separation, which puts more presssure on the split family.

Death can hit the hardest, because, unlike with separation, there is no chance of being together again. It is final. Death of a child is more so, because there is always a way of us seeing that we failed them. If there were already strains in the principal relationship, loss of a child can trigger a lot of blame, further highlighting the loss.

While we may be very attached to our careers, a lot of the justification for the need to have a career can come back to how we see ourselves providing for our families. Loss can threaten that link, as all the assumptions that underpinned the career may be challenged. That can lead many to give up and bury their consciousness in alcohol or drugs, as they have lost the reason to be driven.

Despite many things having to be done after family loss, time must be given to grieving, so that the strong emotions don't get directed at others. Each person will grieve differently, and in different timeframes, so all must learn to be tolerant of where others are in the process. Discuss it, with others in the family, or with a counsellor, but don't expect others to be where they are not ready to be. It is important not to be judgemental, as there is no usual way to work through it all.

For the remaining spouse of a long married couple, the realisation that they need to get out in the world that they have been relatively insulated from (like for dating or other social activities), is daunting and can bring up a lot of fears, which they have not had to feel for a long time. It may take time to be ready and confident to do that. There will be expectations set by what has been before, but it is a new phase of the life, so it may be better to see it as an opportunity to explore the new self, and find out what it is made of.

Challenges to beliefs ^

Beliefs provide a lot of the mental framework by which we run our lives, so when they get challenged too much, it can rock our world.

We often take on beliefs, like religious or political ones, that we have grown up around, or come across in the course of our lives. They appeal to us because they seem to 'answer' a lot of questions we have about ourselves and the world. We then invest a lot of emotional energy in them, as we direct our enthusiasm to living their ideals.

No two people's beliefs are going to be exactly the same, so we tolerate some minor variance of interpretation of the tenets of the belief systems we have taken on, in others, as well as ourselves.

When faced with different beliefs, either by reading or from others, even if fairly close to our own in many respects, we may accept some and reject others. However, if some of those other beliefs may ring true for us, we are faced with choices about what to believe.

Mostly, for our own sanity, we will accept those that seem close enough that it largely does not matter, as beliefs are open to some interpretation. But when they are too much at variance, we have a choice to:

  1. a.Reject them, and so just keep on with our current thinking.
  2. b.Think about them, as they might be an opportunity to expand one's thinking.

Most will select the first, as it is the path of least resistance, while others, especially if they like to keep an open mind, or have some doubts about the universal applicability of their current belief set, will ponder upon them and see how well they actually align.

That pondering may lead to them to rejecting the alternate beliefs, and so go on with their lives. However, if they cannot reconcile the new, seemingly valid, beliefs with those they currently hold, they may face a crisis of belief, where the validity of their current beliefs is challenged.

For them, their identification with the current beliefs is very strong, just because of how much they have relied upon it, and emotionally invested in its validity. It becomes not just a matter of the particular alternate belief they came across, but it brings into consideration whether the whole body of their current belief system is valid. That is a huge challenge, as it may mean the loss of a whole lifestyle and set of friendships and alliances.

The challenge is whether to follow what we now perceive as the truth, or continue with what now seems as a lie of a life, just because it has been a relatively reliable, and perhaps comfortable, existance. The choice is compounded in difficulty if family members are not willing to change.

Many are faced with the reversal of such choices because of politico-religious reasons, such as when the state or new rulers mandate the change, or forced by circumstances to move to a new country where former practices are not accepted.

Expediency, especially if dire consequences result for one of the choices, is to choose the one with safer consequences. Loss of standing is a powerful deterent, but many make the choice to stand by their conscience, and live with the consequences.

It comes down to how valuable our beliefs are to us, and how much we have to bend our behaviour to accommodate any compromises. We can keep our beliefs even if we pretend to others that we have accepted theirs. It depends upon the behaviours required to keep that pretence. For some, there may be too much of a disconnect between the beliefs system and the practices they would now have to carry out, and so will choose defiance, and suffer for their conscience.

In all this, we have to look at history, as many wars have been fought over issues peripheral to the main tenets of a religion or political system. Most Christian sects preach love, but wars have been fought with hate over who can represent the authority of Jesus, mainly because it would define who had the political advantages, so the choice was often not about the beliefs themselves, but who one aligned with. Islam has a similar power inheritance dispute between Sunni and Shiites, exacerbated by nations aligning themselves with each, as in earlier Christian wars.

To solve such dilemmas, look to what is actually being challenged within you. Do you really have to deny core beliefs, or is it about how they are lived? Then the choice of action should be clearer.

Loss of independence ^

Independence is freedom to make our own choices, and when that is restricted, a lot of frustration and anger can result, especially if faced with a progressively debilitating condition.

Conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's are especially difficult to come to terms with, because they reduce the mental capacity to decide how to come to terms with it.

With our aging population, more will be faced with such conditions, but, unlike with loss of a loved one or career, while intense at the time, there is still the hope of a better future. With aging, the future does not hold the same promise.

For many who especially identify with their sense of independence, not being able to pursue the same interests is frustrating, which often leads to a lot of anger. It may help to come to terms with some of the loss by contemplating how your past has relied upon others for your well being. Perhaps learn to see the present as an extension of that reliance into the more personal physical.

It is also difficult for those who have to helplessly watch their loved ones go through their aging difficulties, as it challenges one's own sense of mortality.

It may be that the reality is to think in terms of an end-of-life phase, where each day is seen as an opportunity to experience the day at hand, by persuing interests that are within your capabilities on that day. You don't need be afraid of starting things that you may not be able to finish, as it is in the doing that you experience the life you have.

Perhaps that is the way we all could approach our days, by doing, but not being attached to outcomes.

Attachment ^

In a way, a part of our emotional body was dedicated to what we have lost. It has the same shape, but that upon which it relied is now gone, so we seem emptier without it. The depth of grief and loss is that part, and is the amount of emotion we had invested in that part.

We had grown attached to being with that part, though consciously associating it with something external to us, and thus identifying that external form as essential to us, even though it was only our beliefs that enabled that attachment.

However, the emotions that form that shape now highlight the loss, as they begin to free-wheel in us, and the three choices we have to deal with them are:

  1. a.Keep the emotions locked in the form that we have been used to.
  2. b.Deny and suppress the emotions, to avoid experiencing the pain and grief.
  3. c.Free the emotions, so they can be used for new experiences in our life.

Locking in the emotions is our attempt to hold onto the experiences that we have had, but since they can no longer be fulfilled as they were, we can feel more lonely and empty the longer we hold onto them, as there is no real outlet for them.

Rather than go through the pain, we try to blot it out, and go on with life as if we are over the loss. However, that does not really deal with the emotions, so we may keep being sabotaged by them trying to escape into our consciousness, where we may be overcome with the grief whenever we come across situations that remind us of the loss.

Holding onto, or suppressing, the emotions that loss leads to will not bring us long-lasting peace. The only way to really deal with them is to let them pass through our consciousness, as uncomfortable as that may be, for the time that we need to allow them to find their new place in our consciousness. Once we allow the emotions to be free, we can use them as a force in our lives, to do with what we will.

Of course, we are only human, so there will be residuals of the various emotions we have felt before and after the loss that we will not ever really deal with. That is OK, as it helps us to remember the process for how to deal with future losses.

Freeing the emotions is transmutation, where their essence is no longer tied to what cannot be. With the power of the released emotions, we can be transformed, because we are no longer tied to identifying with the forms in which the emotions were invested.

It is not a betrayal to let go of the people and things we have lost, as that emotion has enabled us to become who we can be heading into the rest of our lives, fully conscious of how what we haved lost got us there.

Moving forward ^

Eventually, grieving will become toned down, and your thoughts begin to focus more on what happens from now on, and what you can do.

Just be wary of thinking you are ready before you actually are. Less emotional sensitively is not the same as being ready to face the new challenges life has in store.

Some people find being busy takes their mind off things, and it can be theraputic to reassert your ability to control some of your circumstances and aspects of your life. However, don't forget to take space to reflect upon your state of mind, and what healing still needs to take place.

For those used to being a 'rock' or guide for their clients or those around them, starting to feel better may lead to wanting to get back into the thick of it. Be aware that people that have been reliant upon you draw some of your emotional energy, and you may find that you now do not have the emotional reserves you have been used to. Ease into taking on emotional responsibilities. Be kind to yourself.

Especially do not feign to become a helper to others who are going through the same experience, until you have really worked through the depths of your emotions and thoughts about your experiences and have let them transform you.

You cannot really help others unless you have got the understanding of the dynamics of your experiences, and the wisdom to be able to deconstruct them so that you can identify what parts of them will help each individual. Each person's loss and grief is different, so no one approach will work for all.


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