Death, Grief, and Mourning

Perspectives on loss, and the growth that can result

 

ARTICLES:

Psychological Death          Grief as Teacher

 

Psychological Death

Our deepest and most severe grief feels like we are losing our mind, that a psychotic break is inevitable; or, that it may kill us, the psychological pain being so unbearable that we will certainly die. This is not simply an emotional event, rather we are viscerally and kinesthetically experiencing our oneness and individuality, our sense of self; and now, because of the life altering event we are grieving our self feels so radically different from which we are accustomed. Momentarily our familiar psychological self has been destroyed, and for all intents and purposes it has died. In addition to the common emotions like sadness and loss, we experience ourselves as having been devastated, perhaps shattered or annihilated. And because of the nature of the experience one does not feel one can control it, which raises one’s fear, increasing one’s suffering. However, if we do not let it frighten us into suppressing the pain, we find that with expression it eases and eventually fades, and the feeling of being ourselves again returns. As this occurs we will find that most likely we are affectively and energetically fatigued, and in need of rest or some activity that restores us to our usual state of mind, or at least to one of lessened grief.

     Questions:

In your own words describe the difference between feeling strong sadness, loss, and depression compared to feeling devastated and dead.

Assuming you have experienced psychological death before, what did you think was happening at the time?

What is your opinion of welcoming and fully feeling the pain of grief rather than avoiding or lessening it?

What would cause you to resist the death of self during strong grief?

What do you do to restore your self, composure, and wellbeing following intense psychological pain or suffering?

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Grief as Teacher

Deep grief in the form of the death of the psychological self, regardless of the cause, requires that we face the loss and allow it to change our identity, and in this regard is a great teacher. It benefits ego transcendence as it teaches one to allow everything to rise up and pass, even the most frightening and overwhelming, thereby strengthening mindfulness, presence, nonattachment, and surrender. Deep grief helps the ego more readily accept the death of itself, strengthening its commitment to more readily undergo the trials and tribulations of its transformation into a spiritual self, e.g. the physical sacrifice of certain practices and rituals, the interpersonal humiliations associated with altruism, and the uncertainty and disruption inherent in personal transformation. Obviously, deep grief is not the preferred way to learn, but it is an unavoidable and valuable one.

     Questions:

What is your personal technique for letting psychological pain pass?

Do you make the distinction between physical or psychological pain and suffering?

When psychologically distressed what frightens you the most?

How might valuing an experience of deep grief benefit you in life?