Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Contrasting Opinions About Grief

Pain becomes bearable when we are able to trust that it won't last forever, not when we pretend that it doesn't exist.
-- Alla Bozarth-Campbell

I've started reading an excellent book called "Understanding Grief" by Alan D. Wolfelt. While it does make many, many excellent points and is well worth your time to read, I couldn't help but notice the sharp contrast in opinion between Eastern grief approaches. Consider the following from the Preface (pg vii):

Perhaps my most important learning about grief is simply that grief is not something we as human beings "get over." Instead, it is something we "live with."

I have read many Western authors that suggest the same thing, that grief is something we incorporate into our lives, like learning to live with diabetes or the loss of a limb. And I have met many widows and widowers who have done an admirable job of incorporating their loss into their lives.

I do not intend to join their ranks. Why?

Let's contrast the above advice with that of an Eastern, Buddhist approach to grief. Right up front, let me be clear that I am not Buddhist and have no intention of becoming a Buddhist. I love eating tasty, grilled animals, and besides, my karma ran over my dogma ;-) However, the ideas in this tradition about how to grieve certainly got my attention. Let's look at the following article I found on The Grief Blog:

Understanding Grief

When we cry for a loved one that has died, either we cry for ourselves or we cry for humanity, never for our loved one. Many will not agree with this, but it is true. The tears are more often than not an expression of our own fear of not having our loved one with us any longer to keep us company, and the subconscious realization that all of us will come to this in time; none will be excused. Therefore, grief has everything to do with us, and nothing to do with the one who has died. This is the true understanding of grief, and when we understand in this way, grief will be less burdensome.

These times of grief are when profound questions should come up in our hearts, questions that we shouldn't run out and get answered by this person or that book too quickly. These are questions that we should gulp down deep inside and allow to simmer for awhile so that we can really feel the suffering that all humanity goes through. To believe that life is happiness flies in the face of many wise people:

John 12:25. "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." The Buddha's first Noble Truth: "Life is Suffering,"

Life is conflict, but life is only in conflict with ourselves. It is ourselves that feel the grief, and it is ourselves that worry and fear. Without the burden of "self," none of these things could touch us, and we would be free. Without the burden of self, no grief would be experienced, only love, and grief is not love. Grief is resistance to change, wanting things to remain our way, but since change is inevitable and what existence is all about, our resistance to change is doomed to failure.

Only a deep understanding of these things can bring us freedom from the burdens of grief. Grief is simply a misunderstanding of ourselves and of our loved ones. Life on earth is seen as a wonderful thing by those of us who are still not free, but those who understand see life as a mere transition, a place of change where the next horizon is nothing less than amazing.

Therefore, we need not cry for the departed. They are fine. We need only to look at ourselves and how we perpetuate the emotions and feelings that cause so much pain. There is a way to end all if this and the way is through understanding at the deepest levels of our hearts.

Copyright © E. Raymond Rock 2007. All rights reserved

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is co founder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center ( His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers (

The difference is striking, yes? Before I close off this post, I also want to be clear that I don't believe one opinion is right and the other is wrong. I'm finding more and more that labels like "right" and "wrong" hold less and less meaning for me. It is what it is. In the end, I care more about results than dogma. For me, it was by attending a free Vipassana meditation course and truly experiencing an Eastern approach to healing that my grief pain went away.

Your mileage may vary ;-)


Swanknitter said...

I think "Understanding Grief" was a great help to me, by acknowledging it as a real emotion that had parts to be worked through, not just glided over. I do try to aspire to a Buddhist view of the world and know that my crying in the night is a "me" thing, missing the spirit that was traveling with me. But it's so hard to let go to such good feelings. A Buddhist would grieve if meditation were denied.

obakesan said...


"Many will not agree with this, but it is true."

I am one who does not agree with this in full. Certainly many tears are for me, but equally some are about her loss too. Perhaps that is true for a majority, perhaps that is only true for the writer and of yourself (since you seem to have a chord with it).

one thing is sure though, and that is that my life and the formation of my persona continues, but what changes she experieces (if any) in death are unclear to me. So it is not possible or perhaps even not healthy to pretend that a relationship can go on.