Saturday, April 12, 2008

Seeing The World The Way It Really Is

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
1 Corinthians 15:55


One of the reasons I was so interested in attending the free Vipassana meditation course is that it promised to teach me to see things as they really are. By signing up to attend, I could sense some sort of breakthrough coming. On the one hand, I was a widower 21 months into my bereavement. Deb, my dead spouse, was still very much a part of my thoughts and life, and the sting was still there. Talking with my young son about Deb or visiting the grave triggered the pain and tears that were by now very familiar.

On the other hand, I was well equipped with an assortment of Grief Recovery Tools. I knew how to better influence my environment to be at peace. I could trigger endorphins at will. I had learned to listen to my body and to adapt to its rhythms instead of insisting on my own. I could recognize my emotional states and let go of wanting to cling to them or avoid them. I had worked through the majority of my unresolved issues with Deb, and I was largely at peace with those memories.

As I journeyed to the meditation center, I sensed that the tide was about to turn, that the recovering hand would soon trump the grieving hand. And I just knew that Vipassana would be the key for me, the catalyst that would usher in my new life as a recovered widower, a single man who no longer felt the painful sting of death. How I knew this I can't explain. I guess I went there like I was going to take some sort of exam, to see if I had recovered enough to "pass." I assumed that to earn a passing grade would be to go the whole 10 days without having a breakdown ;-) And the exam questions would be focused on how well my Grief Recovery Toolkit worked. I figured that during those 10 days I would have to relive my entire 14-year relationship with Deb, and that I would just have to endure the pain, and perhaps acclimatize to the intensity, thereby resetting my grief pain sensor to a new, higher level that wouldn't be so easily triggered by regular daily life.

Thankfully, I endured no such trial. You can read about my course experience in parts one, two, and three. Unexpectedly, what little pain I did experience was related to sitting for hours, not mental anguish. And remarkably, I did experience the world the way it really is.

And how is the world? It is always changing. Everything changes, trillions of times a second. I think a big part of why grief hurts as much as it does is that we live our life at such a high level of abstraction that we have completely forgotten this simple fact. The Western world sells us all a bill of goods that love is forever, that relationships endure into eternity. That they don't change. When our spouse dies, we get smacked upside the head with reality, and that reality is change. Our relationship with our dead spouse is irrevocably changed, yet our habits and thought patterns have yet to acknowledge this. Hence the pain.

I'm sure you have experienced this at some time in your bereavement: you look at another couple, or at a family, incredulous that they could be laughing, smiling, and happy. In your agony, you want to rush over to them, screaming, "how can you be so oblivious to my pain, to my reality? What in the world do you have to be so happy about? What kind of world do we live in where you can be so happy and I can be in so much torment?" And yet, we do inhabit that same world. In bereavement, though, all our assumptions about who we are as individuals have been stripped away. We experience naked, raw emotions as we confront a world that is completely changed for us but seemingly unchanged for others. This triggers thoughts about how unfair life is. Why me?

By attending Vipassana, by sitting in a dark room for 10 hours a day for 10 days focusing on my breathing and my bodily sensations, I came to recognize that this world, and life itself, consists of nothing but change. And with that recognition came a deep healing and a lasting peace. In those 10 days, I changed my expectations about the world, about life, and about myself. Now I no longer live my life as though important things like relationships with others persist in any kind of meaningful way. They are new every day. I am new every day. I no longer have to compare myself to the past, to try to relive my old married life, to cling to some notion of who I was in previous years. There is too much exciting stuff happening right now! I no longer live my life from my memory, and I don't take things for granted. And when unexpected change comes my way, I can smile and laugh now, seeing the very essence of life in action.

1 comment:

Elaine Williams said...

How wonderful to be on a healing journey. I am four years a widow, and took the long, slow approach through no fault of my own. Your post is enlightening and enriching. May you be well. Elaine