Spiritually Based Grieving

I just finished reading the book Walking in Grace with Grief written by Della Temple, a mother whose 29-year old son was suddenly snatched away from her as a result of solo car accident.  Frank and fearless, coming straight from the heart of a mother, Della gives a soul= stirring account of her grief journey and of her “spiritually based grieving.” (1)

Spiritually based grieving comes out of Della’s deep conviction that only the body dies but the spirit lives on-that, her son has died in the physical sense but he is very much “alive!” Such conviction and metaphysical awareness makes Della a very special person, one from the rarest of the rare breed of human beings.  For someone to hang on to the reality of who we really are even in the face of most profound loss and shock has to be far more spiritually advanced than what I can say about myself. So I started reading the book and once I began I didn’t want to put it down.

Growing up in Indian culture I have always heard Atma (Spirit/pure consciousness) is “eternal,” “unborn,” “without a beginning or an end,” “imperishable” and “indestructible!”   I have read hundreds of times the second chapter of Gita where Lord Krishna in the middle of the battlefield instructs the great warrior Arjuna regarding the true reality of sharira (body), the one that decays and dies, and the Atma, is the one that is never born, never injured and can never die. (2)

And yet, whenever a loved one of mine died, at least in the beginning stages of grief, I was not in the state of mind to focus on what I had learned from Gita and other ancient texts regarding the body and the Spirit.

Each time, for the first few weeks of my loss, I would intensely long to see my lost loved ones, hug them, hold them, tell them jokes and make them laugh.  The grasp of the metaphysical reality would remain, at the best, tenuous.  However, as the time would pass, those passages from the second chapter of Gita would begin to give me solace and comfort. Then onward, I would often go back to Gita in order to assuage my pain.

So, Della’s very personal and authentic account with all the emotional ups and downs, struggles and challenges of grief, unwavering belief in the life after this life, and profound acceptance of her loss leading to complete healing is inspiring.  She is now sharing her story in the hopes of helping others.  From her account it seems possible that one can stay spiritually “awakened” even in the face of extreme emotional shock and loss.

Bhagwan Shri Maharishi Raman at age of 16 was suddenly seized with intense and violent fear of death and that prompted Atma Vichar (self-inquiry), understanding of the Higher Self and instant personal enlightenment.  “Taking the bull by the horn,” that is, looking right into the eye of the fear of imminent death, Raman asks himself, “What is it that is dying?  The body dies but the spirit cannot be touched by death.  I am the deathless Spirit.” (3) Imagine figuring it all out at the tender age of 16!

Let’s now speed up the clock to 50- plus years later in the life of Maharishi Raman.  This highly revered saint developed cancerous tumor in his arm and shoulder.  Surgeons would do the operation and the tumor would come back.  But Raman was totally indifferent to these happenings in his body like it was somebody else’s body.  His devotees would beg him to cure himself of the terrible cancer for THEIR sake and Raman would say, “Why are you attached to this body?  Let it go.”

As the cancer progressed the devotees lost all hope. Knowing the end was near, they would wander around the ashram feeling deeply sad and heartbroken.  Raman, filled with compassion for the devotees and trying to console them would say, “Where can I go?  I am here!”

For Raman the impending death was not a personal loss but a great teaching moment to remind us of the ancient teachings of Upanishads and Gita that refer to the Spirit as achal (unmoving), nitya,(eternal) and sarvagatah (all pervading).

Yes, where will we go? Actually, where CAN we go?  We, in our spiritual space are here, there and everywhere. Spirit is sarvgatah.  Whatever place we can think of in our imagination, upward, downward, inward, outward, Spirit is already there!

All this “drill” about who we really are in the spiritual reality has succeeded in doing this: It has made me somewhat nonchalant about “losing” myself.  Sure, I would like to avoid severe pain, disability and dependence on others. but I am not too concerned about the “Light” one day switching itself off my physical body.

I have been working on strengthening the following personal beliefs:

“I am more than my body”

“Life continues after death”

“Body and mind are part of Prakriti (Matter) and not Purusha (Spirit/consciousness)”

“Consciousness continues even after the brain and mind die.”

“Reincarnation is a fact of life.”

I hope and pray that by continuous working on these beliefs one day they can become unshakable convictions.

Della went through most profound grief but the latter could never weaken her conviction that her son, Rick, is “alive” on the spiritual plane, and is close to her, so close, like he is sitting right inside her heart!  This sense of close presence of Rick around her, I am sure, contributed to her profound acceptance of the loss.

Here I will quote Della directly:

“I did not feel anger, nor did I feel rage against a God that has taken my son. I experienced sorrow; a deep fathomless sadness; grief; love; acceptance; compassion; and happiness—yes happiness—all at once.  I felt God was surrounding me, offering comfort and support.  I knew within my soul that Rick’s spirit lived on.  He had left his body, but he was alive as a Spirit” (p.22)

Twenty-five hundred and some years ago, a woman by the name of Kisa Gautami had a one-year old son who became ill and suddenly died.  Carrying the deceased son in her arms, wailing and gasping for breath she walked right up to Lord Buddha and placed the baby at his feet.  Kisa begged Buddha to bring her son back to life or release her from her unbearable pain.

Buddha tried to solace her but her grief had no bounds.  Then Buddha said, “Perhaps I can help you but first you will have to do something for me.”  Kisa, the mourning mother asked Buddha what she could possibly do for him.

Buddha asked her to go to the town and bring him five mustard seeds from a family which has never experienced a death.  Kisa calmed down and her calm enabled her to imagine that every family she would visit she would hear such words as, ‘I lost my wife,” “I lost my mother,” “I lost my son” and so on.  The dark cloud of grief and despair lifted off immediately from the heart of the mourning mother. Later, Kisa joined the path of truth seekers with Buddha.

That was “Reality Therapy” Buddha style.  It worked!

Whether in the present or in the past, one truth is constant and unchanging: Death is inevitable and all pervading. There is no family that would not be touched by death at some point. Therefore, I recommend Walking in Grace with Grief: Meditations for Healing after Loss to anyone who wants to learn more about a different kind of grieving, the spiritually-based grieving. Della went through the worst possible loss that a mother can be asked to bear.  She grieved spiritually, came out on the other side of grieving, and now sharing with the world the process of her kind of grieving.

Thank you Della!

(1)  Walking in Grace with Grief: Meditations for Healing After Loss by Della Temple 2015

(2) Lord Krishna tells grief stricken Arjuna, the great warrior that sharira, the physical body is born to die.  Atma. the Spirit or the Soul  casts the body as we cast the worn-out clothes.  Krishna describes the soul with such epithets as “unborn,” “constant,” “eternal,” primeval’ “older than Time itself,” “not killed when body is killed,” “imperishable,” “impenetrable,” “uninflammable,” “all pervading,” etc. (Gita 2: 20-24). The second chapter of Gita contains many more verses describing the true reality of the body and the soul.

(3) Narsimha Swami’s Conversations with Raman on his Life Experiences

About sharma

Vijai Sharma, PhD, certified Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist from the American Viniyoga Institute (AVI) and retired clinical psychologist with special interest in mind-body medicine. Thanks primarily to Yoga, I have enjoyed great quality of life learning and living with three major illnesses, Emphysema/ Chronic Bronchitis (also called "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease- COPD) since 1994, Quad Bypass Cardiac surgery 2007, Prostate cancer and radical prostate surgery in 2010. My experiences and insights into the illnesses, Yoga, psychology and mind-body medicine provide me a unique opportunity to put them into practice and learn further more. Through this blog I share with you how exactly I manage to have a satisfying and fulfilling life. I do so in the hopes that you will do the same with the challenges you may have. I invite you to join me!
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