I recently listened to Martin Prechtel, Mayan shaman, talk about grief and praise, how they are interconnected. There are so many approaches to grief, so many ways to experience it and recover from it, so many stages of grief, so many individual expressions. Grief and loss have been huge in my life, sometimes so present and impactful, almost debilitating, sometimes a gentle reminder to appreciate deeply all the fleeting blessings of life- to love those people who are here with us, to appreciate each day before it is gone.
In Chinese medicine, the transformation of grief is the function of the Metal Element, corresponding to the autumn season. As my teacher, Thea Elijah said, ” That which is transient is now gone forever; the vitality which endures is now held deep inside. The teaching of autumn is that all things pass, but that what is truly precious lives on inside of us. Grief is the recognition that something of beauty and importance is gone from the outer world, but inherent within Grief is the capacity to identify clearly what we most value, even in its material absence. Righteousness is the capacity to prefer what Heaven values; to align ourselves with its vaster beauty and be fully graced by it; even when this involves personal loss”.
The Metal Element helps us move from a place of grief to a place of nostalgia and appreciation. While feeling the pain of loss, we can focus on the gift, the learning, the experience, what we have gained. And we can know that the most important things endure. Standing on higher ground, we can see the larger picture.
There is a teaching that all thoughts that are not productive are a symptom of a pathology. If we are stuck, if we need to go deep into a feeling and linger there, perhaps we need help to enliven our transformative capabilities. Enlightenment is said to include the ability to let all emotions move through swiftly and lightly. Most of us never achieve that, but we can move towards that, by releasing feelings as they come up, acknowledging them but not hanging onto them. That is not to say that there is not a process to grieving and that things have to be worked through and chewed upon for as long as necessary to extract what is of value and fully digest the experience. Some people take a long time to fully feel something and need to be with their grief for quite a while. The time spent feeling and grieving is productive in this sense, as it is moving them towards resolution.
A pitfall can be the pull of the drama, the feeling of aliveness that comes with the big emotion and the sense of connecting with others and getting needed attention by sharing pain. Tears attract the focus of the room. They also release pent up feelings and support flow and the transformative process. When we find ways to get support and attention, we don’t have to stay stuck in something dramatic just to be noticed. Taking in appreciation and creating connection is something we have to practice when we are feeling centered, as well as when we are in need of extra attention.
Grief and loss are a part of our everyday experience- nothing is permanent, we will lose all things. Coming to terms with grief, transforming it into appreciation, means realizing that we only grieve those things that we love. By feeling grief, we experience love. It is the other side of the same coin. A life without grief is a life without connection, attachment, or caring. A life stuck in grief and a sense of loss is one where the experience is not complete. Grief without the emergence of love and appreciation means that we have not let the Metal Element be softened by our Heart, by loving compassion. We haven’t extracted the gift from the experience, which is our real work here. Every emotion has a lesson in it, as we journey towards completion on this physical plane. The beautiful lesson of the Metal Element is to extract something precious and of great value- love- from our experience of loss and grief.