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The Way is gained by daily loss.
Summer has given way to fall, a time of letting go and loss. We are losing the light as the days shorten; trees are losing their leaves, as the sap returns to roots in the dark earth; flowers and vegetables, just a few weeks ago so lush and bountiful, are dying back. This is a natural time every year to feel our losses, but this year we are also faced with the shakeup of our whole financial system and huge losses on Wall Street.
Many people don't want to look at the damage done to their portfolios or feel guilty, even ashamed, about being so concerned about their money. However, there is grief in this loss—and we will pay a big price for avoiding it.
Over a lifetime we will experience many losses. We live by losing, leaving and letting go. These are essential parts of the ever-changing world, as much a part of life as night, wind and rain. We cannot save ourselves, nor those we love, from the sorrow that is part of life. Parents die, friends drop away, cherished possessions are lost. Our children grow up and leave home. We lose spouses and partners to divorce or death; sometimes we lose them emotionally long before. As we age, we will confront all that we never were or never will be. We will be faced with the grief of unfulfilled dreams.
With each major loss, we often encounter multiple losses. For example, the death of a parent can lead to many other losses—of our identity as their child, of our family history, and sometimes of friends as they retreat from the intensity of our grief. Losing a job can lead to the loss of self-confidence, identity and power. A miscarriage or infertility can bring about the loss of the dream of having a family. A divorce can result in the loss of a lifestyle, home, friends and identity.
The losses on Wall Street have also resulted in many other losses—of a sense of security, of dreams, of lifestyles, of plans for retirement. Many people have lost their homes and their jobs.
Living as we do in a culture that is based on acquisition, most of us naturally shrink from material loss. We are tempted to think we can avoid the pain of loss if we keep busy, that we can close our hearts a little to protect ourselves. However, it is the ungrieved losses that take their toll on our hearts and deaden us. We forget that even these, as difficult as they may be, are connected to our vitality and growth.
Irish poet John O'Donohue calls loss the "sister of discovery." He explains that as loss empties and clears away the old, it makes room for something new. It allows us to grow and enjoy new things. Loss provides a "vital clearance of the soul," pruning away dead branches so that new shoots can break forth.
Many people don't recognize this deep undercurrent until they lose a loved one. It wasn't until my client Bonnie lost her mother that she began to acknowledge how much grief was weighing on her heart. In her first session, Bonnie shared that accumulated losses over 10 years felt like quicksand, pulling her into a deep depression. She listed loss after loss—of freedom when she became a mother, of friends and community when she moved, of her health after three pregnancies, of intimacy with her husband as they juggled hectic schedules, of contact with siblings, financial losses, the death of both parents. Life had swept her along while the losses accumulated—unfelt, unacknowledged, unresolved. Now it was the profound grief over her mother that made her realize the grief that had always been there, just under the surface. Bonnie realized how all that accumulated ordinary grief had shut her down and compromised her aliveness. And she found that she was now weeping for her greatest loss of all - all the unlived moments of her life.
If we could recognize this "ordinary" grief sooner, we wouldn't feel so overwhelmed when a loved one dies. When we open to the little losses, we make room in our hearts for the greater losses. We gain strength to grieve when a major loss shakes our world. If we pay attention even to small losses, we will find that they tap into that reservoir of loss we hold inside. If we but, in the words of poet David Whyte, "slip beneath the still surface of the well of grief," we will find the "source from which we drink."
So if you are facing financial losses from this recent crisis, take some time to acknowledge and feel the grief. Don't talk yourself out of feeling your grief: "It's just money. ... I shouldn't be taking this so hard. ... I'm ashamed to be feeling this way, etc." If you are feeling overwhelmed, this loss might be tapping into other unresolved losses hidden away in your heart. This is an opportunity to address and heal these as well.
In opening to grief over all the daily losses, big and small, we find we can't bear to hold back from life any longer. We open to both the exquisite beauty and the sorrow of being fully alive. Each moment becomes precious, an opportunity to embrace the wonder of life—the separations, meetings, conflicts, peace and yes, all the losses.
This article appears at SmartNow.com.