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Brought to you by the Center for Loss and Life Transition - Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., Director
The Spiritual Path to Healing: Mourning Ideas, Part 1
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
EXPRESS YOUR SPIRITUALITY
- Above all, mourning is a spiritual journey of the heart and soul. Grief and loss invite you to consider why people live, why people die, and what gives life meaning and purpose. These are the most spiritual questions we have language to form.
- You can discover spiritual understanding in many ways and through many practices—prayer, worship, and meditation among them. You can nurture your spirituality in many places—nature, church, temple, mosque, monastery, retreat center, kitchen table among them. No one can "give" you spirituality from the outside in. Even when you gain spiritual understanding from a specific faith tradition, the understanding is yours alone, discovered through self-examination, reflection and spiritual transformation.
- Mourning invites you down a spiritual path at once similar to that of others yet simultaneously your own. The reality that you have picked up this book shows that you are seeking to deepen your life with the Divine Mystery. Sometimes this happens within a faith tradition through its scriptures, community of believers and teachers. Other times a book is just what you need to support and gently guide you in ways that bring comfort and hope.
If you attend a place of worship, visit it today, either for services or an informal time of prayer and solitude. If you don't have a place of worship, perhaps you have a friend who seems spiritually grounded. Ask her how she learned to nurture her spirituality. Sometimes, someone else's ideas and practices provide just what you need to stimulate your own spiritual self-care.
NAME YOUR GRATITUDE & COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
- When you are faced with loss, it can be difficult to feel a sense of gratitude in your life, yet gratitude prepares you for the blessings that are yet to come.
- Many blessings may have already companioned you since your grief journey began. Somehow, and with grace, you have survived. Looking back, you may recognize the many supportive gestures, big and small, you were offered along the way.
- When you fill your life with gratitude, you invoke a self-fulfilling prophecy. What you expect to happen can happen. For example, if you don't expect anyone to support you in your grief, they often don't. By contrast, if you anticipate support and nurturance, you will indeed find it.
- Think of all you have to be thankful for. This is not to deny you your overwhelming loss and the need to mourn. However, you are being self-compassionate when you consider the things that make your life worth living, too. Reflect on your possibilities for joy and love each day. Honor those possibilities and have gratitude for them. Be grateful for your physical health and your beautiful spirit. Be grateful for your family and friends and the concern of strangers. Above all, be grateful for this very moment. When you are grateful, you prepare the way for inner peace.
Start keeping a gratitude journal. Each night before you go to bed, recount your blessings from the day. At first you may find this challenging, but as you continue this daily practice, it will get easier and more joyful.
VISIT THE GREAT OUTDOORS
- During times of grief and loss, many people find it restorative and energizing to spend time in nature. Returning to the natural world encourages you to discover what is essential both within you and the world around you.
- As a human being, you are a part of the natural world, and you are interdependent with it. As many naturalists would remind you, a close relationship with nature grounds your psyche and soul in the spiritual certainty of your roots. If you lose touch with nature's rhythms, you lose touch with your deepest self, with what some would call "the ground of your being."
- If you allow yourself to befriend nature, you will discover that its timeless beauty is renewing and healing. Observe how children respect and honor the spirit of nature and its beauty because they understand it instinctively. Flowers, birds, bugs and butterflies often bring enthusiastic cries of recognition in children. You too can approach nature with the openness of a child. Take pleasure in the sounds, sights, and smells that fill your senses.
- Look up at the sky filled with beautiful clouds or twinkling stars. Stand barefoot in cool grass. Play in the snow. Taste sweet strawberries from the field. Feel the wind and sun on your skin. It doesn't matter if you are in a garden or a park, in the mountains or beside the ocean. Mother Nature will sooth your soul and refresh your spirit.
Today, reflect on your relationship with the natural world. Go for a walk or hike and invite the Divine to come along. Allow nature to sustain you and bring you peace.
GO TO EXILE
- Choosing to spend time alone is an essential self-nurturing spiritual practice. It affords you the opportunity to be unaffected by other's wants and needs.
- It is impossible to really know yourself if you never take time to withdraw from the demands of daily living. Alone time does not mean you are being selfish. Instead, you will experience rest and renewal in ways you otherwise would not. A lack of alone time produces heightened confusion and a muting of your life force.
- Getting away from it all can become your refuge. So much of modern life invites you to keep busy—e-mail, cell phones, satellite TV, all competing for your attention. Yet, when you have special mourning needs, the last thing you need is distraction. Remember, this time of exile is not only for you. As you rest and renew, you can also better meet the needs of those who depend on you. Your human spirit is naturally compassionate, and once you feel restored, your instinct to be kind and generous to those around you will be revitalized.
- Even Jesus went to exile. He modeled the simple spiritual practice of rest and alone time as a natural, nourishing, and valuable companion to times of busyness. Jesus would sometimes send people away, disappear without warning or explanation, and retreat to a place of rest. If Jesus went to exile, so can you!
- Within your exiled time and space will evolve the insights and blessings that come to the surface only in stillness and with time. Schedule alone time on a regular basis. Don't shut out your family and friends altogether, but do answer the call for contemplative solitude.
Schedule one hour of solitude into your day today.